I can see clearly now

It’s helpful when advertisers can get a window into the FTC’s thinking about certain ad claims — and five recent settlements with companies that sell replacement windows offer just that.

According to the FTC, the businesses made exaggerated and unsupported representations about the energy efficiency of their windows, and about how much money people could save on their heating and cooling bills by having them installed. What did the ads say? Things like:

  • “Guaranteed to reduce your heating and cooling use by up to 49%”
  • “[Our products] will pay for themselves in energy savings alone within 8 years or we will pay the difference . . . our windows are free!!”
  • “Save 50% on Energy Bills — or [the company] PAYS YOU!”

The proposed settlements make it crystal clear that the companies need competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up claims that people will get up to or a specific amount or percentage of energy savings or savings on heating or cooling bills. In addition, if the company claims that people will get specific energy savings or reduced heating or cooling costs under certain circumstances — say, by replacing a window made of a certain material in a specific region of the country — the company must clearly and prominently disclose those circumstances close to where the claim is made. The company also must be able to substantiate that all or almost all consumers are likely to see the maximum savings claimed under those circumstances.

As advertisers and the attorneys who represent them are sure to have noticed, the settlements offer interesting insights into the FTC’s approach to “up to” claims used in the marketing of replacement windows. If marketers of replacement windows make “up to” claims — for example, if they say people will save “up to” a certain amount of money or achieve energy savings “up to” a certain amount — they should have competent and reliable scientific evidence to prove that all or almost all consumers are likely to get the maximum savings promised.

Another compliance note:  Based on the facts of some of the cases, those orders include an additional provision designed to make sure the companies don’t give misleading information to their distributors that could be passed on to buyers. One order specifically requires a company to conduct a training program to help principals, officers, managers, employees, and sales reps avoid misleading claims.

Even if you don't have clients in that industry, at some point you may be in the market for windows yourself. The FTC has published a new brochure, Shopping for New Windows?, with tips to make the window-buying process more transparent.

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The FTC has done a good job in protecting consumers against these Window Sharks who preyed on their clients.

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