From celebrity misappropriation suits to blockbuster class action rulings in the Supreme Court, 2011 was another exciting year in consumer advertising law. As we look forward to 2012, here’s a look at eleven of the top stories from the year that was. If you have your own nominees for 2011’s top eleven, send an email (email@example.com) and we’ll try to post our readers' list later this month.
11. Maybe It’s Maybelline … or Maybe It’s Airbrushed
Beauty enhancements should come from products, not post-production! So said the UK’s Advertising Standard Authority in 2011, when it banned advertisements [Aug. 2, 2011] depicting Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington on the basis that the images had been digitally altered.
Many a legitimate enterprise found itself registering a .xxx domain name in 2011, as a new top level domain was launched for adult content on the Internet. These companies blushingly took advantage of the Sunrise B [Oct. 11, 2011] time period during which non-adult-industry trademark owners could defensively register their marks, thereby eliminating them from the pool of available .xxx domains.
9. There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
It seems like the battle against the bulge is never-ending and so is the FTC’s battle against companies advertising misleading weight loss remedies. In 2011 the FTC reached a $25 million settlement [Oct. 4, 2011] with Reebok over ads for toning shoes that promised “a better butt and better legs with every step.”
8. She Looks Like Kim Kardashian
It’s well known that misappropriation suits are de rigueur for any self-respecting celebrity du jour. See e.g., Paris Hilton’s 2009 suit against Hallmark (for use of the phrase “that’s hot”); Lindsay Lohan’s 2010 suit against E*Trade (for portraying a baby named Lindsay as a “milkaholic”). 2011 was no exception, as Kim Kardashian sued Old Navy [Aug. 4, 2011] for allegedly using a model resembling her in a TV advertisement.
7. Made in Havana, Puerto Rico
The rule that literally true statements can be challenged as impliedly false took a hit this year [Oct. 10, 2011] when the Third Circuit held that survey evidence showing that the name “Havana Rum” gave the impression the rum was made in Cuba could be excluded because the statement on the bottle that the rum was “made in Puerto Rico” was objectively verifiable.
6. The Meaning of “Natural”
The trickle of cases alleging deceptive use of the term “natural” on labeling or in advertisements became a torrent in 2011, with new suits [Oct. 3, 2011] against Conagra, Kellogg, and Skinny Girl, to name just a few.
5.Protecting Children in the US -- Standards for Food Advertising
We have been following FTC efforts to establish principles for marketing food to children for some time. In 2011, these efforts culminated in initial recommendations [May 16, 2011] published by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. These recommendations met with heavy resistance in the form of an industry coalition, [Aug. 9, 2011] which is seeking legislative action on the basis that the proposed standards are overbroad and anti-business.
4. Protecting Children in the UK -- Standards for Decency
The UK advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, was also active in protecting children in 2011, finding ad campaigns directed at children [Oct. 24, 2011] or portraying children (here and here) [Aug. 18 and Dec. 19, 2011] to violate UK standards for responsible advertising.
The FTC proposed changes [Sept. 23, 2011] to rules implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which provides parents control over what personal information web sites may collect from children under 13 years old. These proposals are significant, particularly because FTC enforcement has made COPPA compliance a serious consideration [Nov. 23, 2011] for all web site operators.
In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion [May 4, 2011], the Supreme Court held that arbitration provisions prohibiting class-wide arbitrations can be enforced, and that the California Supreme Court’s decision in Discover Bank finding such provisions unenforceable is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act. The full ramifications of Concepcion have yet to play out, but at least one court has found that such clauses can still be unconscionable. [Nov. 14, 2011]
1. Wal-Mart v. Dukes
The top spot on our list goes to the Supreme Court’s watershed decision [June 28, 2011] on class certification, the first of its kind in many years. Wal-Mart embraces a rigorous analysis of the elements of class certification, and substantially raises the bar for showing that the commonality element of Rule 23 has been met. Commentators were quick to predict that Wal-Mart would shape class action law for years to come, and early indications [Aug. 24, 2011] suggest that might be an understatement. [Nov. 15, 2011]