POM Wonderful hits back at FTC with "you be the judge" ad campaign

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged POM Wonderful on Sept. 27, 2010 with deceptive advertising for claiming its pomegranate juice and POMx pills "prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction."
POM Wonderful
POM Wonderful

(CBS News) POM wonderful has hit back at the Federal Trade Commission with a new advertising campaign, telling consumers when it comes to "FTC v. POM - You be the judge."

POM Wonderful deceptively advertised health claims in juice ads, judge rules

The ad references a Monday ruling by Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell, that ruled POM Wonderful deceptively advertised its pomegranate products when it cited research saying the juices could treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The FTC sued POM and its parent company, Roll International Corp. in Los Angeles, alleging the claims from company research on heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction were false and unsubstantiated because of the studies' methodology. The FTC wanted all health claims POM made to be backed by rigorous scientific trials, such as ones needed for pharmaceutical drugs.

On Monday, the judge ordered POM to halt all claims of health benefits or performance for its juices unless the representation is not misleading but the judge disagreed with the FTC's stance on the rigor of the studies, saying only "competent reliable scientific evidence" was necessary.

POM hung onto the "competent and reliable" portion for its new campaign that was released Thursday in full-page advertisements in newspapers and websites.

"You may have heard that the Federal Trade Commission sued POM Wonderful for false and misleading advertising on grounds that science did not support POM's health claims," reads the new campaign on www.pomtruth.com. "But what you as a consumer of POM need to know is that the FTC judge agreed that POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx do provide significant health benefits."

That's followed by quotes the company pulled out of the judge's ruling such as, "Competent and reliable scientific evidence supports the conclusion that the consumption of pomegranate juice and pomegranate extract supports prostate health," as found on page 282 of Judge Chappell's ruling. They also used the statement from page 188 of the ruling that reads, "Pomegranate juice is a natural fruit product with health promoting characteristics. The safety of pomegranate juice is not in doubt."

The company also said out of 600 print and outdoor ads, the judge found less 2 percent misleading, and included "some of the other 98 percent" as examples on the website.

The new campaign took one food-law expert by surprise.

"It's extremely unusual," August Horvath, partner at Kelley Drye, a New York-based firm, told Forbes. "And I consider it ill-advised ...The things that Pom has won on, that it is crowing about here -- they could still lose on those matters, and a good way to do it is to make the FTC really angry. And that's what they might be doing."

The FTC told USA Today in a statement that it was not going to comment on POM's new ads "because one or both parties are likely to appeal certain aspects" of the judge's decision.