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Speak not of walkability

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2014

“From a realtor: ‘Regarding the Metro, I never putting “walk to..” on my listings because when I took my GRI classes they warned us that “walk to” might trigger a complaint of discrimination against people with disabilities.’ Sigh…” — David Bernstein, law professor and author of “You Can’t Say That! The Threat To Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws

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“Even pictures of food [at schools] have to have the federal government’s stamp of approval.” [Scott Shackford, Reason]

P.S. Speaking of marketing and paternalism, here’s Ann Althouse on the latest horrible Mark Bittman column.

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on December 31, 2013

  • Gee, thanks, NIH: “Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda to Show the ‘Evils’ of Private Alcohol Sales” [Michelle Minton, CEI]
  • “So this summer, under the supervision of officials from U.S. Customs, all three thousand two hundred and ninety-seven pounds of Mimolette were tossed into dumpsters and doused in bleach.” [The New Yorker, Dec. 9, subscription; S.F. Chronicle, earlier on French cheese controversy here, here, etc.]
  • FDA forced to back off FSMA regs, NYC soda ban loses twice in court, and other highlights of the year in food freedom [Baylen Linnekin] “Americans Think They Should Be Allowed to Buy Foods with Trans Fats and Caffeinated Energy Drinks” [Emily Ekins on new Reason-RUPE poll] “The Dangers of a Soda Tax” [Trevor Burrus] Linnekin podcast on FDA’s trans-fat ban [Cato, Caleb Brown interview]
  • “Annals of Closing Statements in Exploding Bottle Cases” [Kyle Graham]
  • “Minnesota says raw milk makes more people sick than recognized” [L.A. Times]
  • It’s for the children: proposals for regulating in-store food marketing [Jennifer Pomeranz via Public Citizen]
  • Federal sugar program devastated domestic candy manufacturing, as WaPo (sometimes) recognizes [Chris Edwards]

“… The FTC regulating it” [Jack Shafer, Reuters]

Jack Shafer has a few thoughts:

Schneiderman mustn’t neglect the product endorsement industry. Do those celebrity endorsers really love the product or service as much as they say they do? … Fake reviews on Yelp, properly considered, are Yelp’s problem, not the state of New York’s. Let the Yelp people clean up the sewer. And the attorney general? Aren’t there any genuine crimes in the state for him to investigate?

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That was the title of the talk I gave Friday at a panel on food and product labeling law as part of a stimulating symposium put on by the Vermont Law Review at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vt. I drew on a number of different sources, but especially two relatively recent articles: Omri Ben-Shahar and Curt Schneider, “The Failure of Mandated Disclosure,” U. Penn. Law Review (2011), and Kesten C. Green and J. Scott Armstrong, “Evidence on the Effects of Mandatory Disclaimers in Advertising”, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Fall 2012. I was able to bring in examples ranging from patent marking law to Prop 65 in California to pharmaceutical patient package inserts, as well as the durable phenomenon of labels, disclosures, and disclaimers going unread even by very sophisticated consumers.

My talk was well received, and I think I might adapt and expand it in future into a full-length speech for audiences on failures of consumer protection law.

According to a math teacher’s calculations, a sample yielded only 1.86 times as much filling between the chocolatey wafers, not “double.” Here’s the report, by Rachel Tepper in Huffington Post. Using comments, who would like to predict whether some law firm will file an intended class action over this problem within the next twelve months, on a scale where zero indicates “completely confident that there will not be such a lawsuit” and 10 indicates “completely confident that there will be”?

Bonus, from the article: “And Mega Stuf Oreos have only 2.86 times the creme in a regular Oreo. The prefix ‘mega’ literally means a factor of one million, which, granted, is impossible to translate to an Oreo. Still, perhaps another name could have sufficed.”

P.S. As a reminder, class action lawyers sued the Subway restaurant chain after it was reported that its “Footlong” sub was actually more like 11 inches long. And a federal judge is reconsidering a recent ruling allowing class action claims to go forward over the appearance on an ingredient list of “evaporated cane juice,” i.e., sugar.

P.P.S. Welcome Digg and Fark readers.

Update: “While I’m not familiar with what was done in the classroom setting, I can confirm for you that our recipe for the Oreo Double Stuf Cookie has double the Stuf, or creme filling, when compared with our base, or original Oreo cookie,” a spokeswoman for Nabisco told ABC News.

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“Photographs of infants are to be banned from baby formula packaging under new European Parliament rules.” [Irish Times via Stuttaford]

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Surveillance roundup

by Walter Olson on June 14, 2013

  • “Old crisis creates new leviathan” [Barton Hinkle] Some other things that maybe should happen before Snowden gets prosecuted [Bruce Schneier] “Were they here, my parents might have asked, ‘What happened to America?’” [Nat Hentoff]
  • Candidate Obama, meet President Obama; on surveillance, you’ll find you have little in common [graphic courtesy Caleb Brown, Cato at Liberty] Don’t say the president wants to be trusted with complete discretion unfettered by the other branches of government; that’s his assassination program, not his surveillance program [Jacob Sullum]
  • A different view: two leading libertarian legal thinkers, Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein, defend the NSA surveillance program [Chicago Tribune]
  • How very wrong David Simon is about the NSA’s capabilities [Clay Shirky, Guardian]
  • Tracking by advertisers just as bad? No, here’s why state surveillance is worse [Jason Kuznicki, Brian Doherty]
  • I’m not the only one wondering whether prosecution of QWest’s Joseph Nacchio relates to his non-cooperation with NSA [Michael Kelly/Business Insider, Scott Shackford/Reason, Greg Campbell/Daily Caller]
  • What would it take to bring back a Watergate-era spirit of reform? [Jesse Walker]
  • “As the NSA has made all too clear, unless we update our concept of the Fourth Amendment to fit the realities of the Internet Age, those general warrants [despised by colonists] will be back — on a far larger scale, and in secret.” [Julian Sanchez]

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Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on June 10, 2013

  • FBI looks at allegations Dallas DA filed fraud suit as favor to donor [Free Beacon]
  • “Suing ex-client for $500K in divorce fees led to disbarment ruling for former bar president” [Virginia; former "titan" of D.C. matrimonial bar, ABA Journal]
  • “Appeals court cuts ‘unconscionable’ estate legal bill from $44M to perhaps $3M” [ABA Journal on Graubard Miller / Alice Lawrence case, earlier]
  • Empirical puzzler: advent of lawyer advertising doesn’t seem to have had the expected fee-reducing effect [Nora Freeman Engstrom, SSRN via LEF] Law firm marketers were all over the Metro-North crash case [Eric Turkewitz]
  • “DOJ Inspector General’s report: US Attorney unlawfully leaked to discredit critic” [of "Fast and Furious" operation; John Steele]
  • “Lawyer accused of bilking real estate investors through false claims of criminal probes takes plea” [New Jersey; ABA Journal]
  • Claim: disciplinary decisions to reinstate errant lawyers should be more guided by experts [Bruce Green and Jane Moriarity, SSRN via LEF]
  • If you find it hard to believe opponents would gin up flimsy “speech-gave-offense” charges against Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones, recall the earlier ginned-up (and now mostly forgotten) charges against distinguished appellate judges Dennis Jacobs and Alex Kozinski.

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2013

  • New ACA regulations from the feds restrict employer wellness programs [Jon Hyman; Leslie Francis, Bill of Health]
  • Frequent-flyer defense medical examiner comes to grief in New York [Eric Turkewitz]
  • Fecal transplants (that’s not a misprint) appear to hold out hope of saving a lot of lives, except for the mountain of FDA paperwork blocking them [Amar Toor/The Verge, Maggie Koerth-Baker] Enter the grey market [Beth Skwarecki]
  • Why can’t the FDA catch up with Europe on sunscreens? [Alex Tabarrok]
  • “The banning of catastrophic-only plans infuriates me the most…. the only plans that are actually financially sensible for a healthy individual to purchase.” [MargRev comments section]
  • More on the recent study of malpractice suits by a group of Johns Hopkins researchers [Christopher Robinette]
  • For all his public health pretensions, Michael Bloomberg “has no idea what he’s talking about” on medical marijuana [Jacob Sullum]
  • Another look at asylums? [James Panero, City Journal]
  • Feds’ war on Google pharma ads reflects no credit on D.C. [Brian Doherty]

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“…but Does He Really Owe Damages?” That’s what the U.S. Department of Justice will claim, at least. “Perhaps most curiously, how will the court assess damages on behalf of the Postal Service? Has the brand of the USPS actually been harmed by Armstrong’s years-late confession?” [Brad Wieners, Bloomberg Business Week]

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As part of the wrangling over remedies imposed by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, the federal government is demanding that tobacco companies be made to run ads declaring that the government was right and they wrong on various controversial issues, and in particular that they confess to having lied on purpose. A demand for judicially imposed self-denunciation, and in particular a demand that private actors be ordered to assert ideologically charged propositions that do not reflect their actual inward beliefs, should disturb civil libertarians, it seems to me, even if it does not disturb the U.S. Department of Justice. I’m quoted at 4:47 in this report by the BBC’s Ben Wright.

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On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.’”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.

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11 inches is more like it, according to a bunch of lawyers who’ve filed class actions [ABC News, Chicago Tribune] Ron Miller is not too impressed.

P.S.: “I trust every member of the class will be able to prove that their foot is longer than their sandwich” [@eggs_over_easy]

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Class action lawyers have filed suit saying that contrary to its marketing, the popular beverage doesn’t actually “give you wings.” [Reuters, ABA Journal] Meanwhile, the same scientific observation that underlies the lawyers’ action — that pharmacologically, the drinks don’t seem to deliver effects readily distinguishable from those of a strong coffee — is hard to square with the oft-expressed fear that Red Bull et al pose unusual risks to consumers, although the New York Times does seem to manage to keep both ideas in its head at once. [Jacob Sullum]

More: Ron Miller, in comments (“this completely mischaracterizes the lawsuit”).

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If you’re going to arrange a would-be class action on behalf of buyers dreadfully shocked that a ready-to-drink cocktail marketed as all-natural in fact included trace quantities of sodium benzoate, be sure your client does not lack “typicality.” [Alison Frankel, Reuters] Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid, a spoilage retardant which occurs naturally in cranberries, plums, apples and other foodstuffs, but is typically synthesized for food use.

A new Oregon law forbids employers “to advertise a job opening if they won’t consider applicants who are unemployed.” [CNBC] Earlier on efforts to make jobless persons into a new protected class under discrimination laws here, here, etc.

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