Out of the mouths of babes

Tell people your baby is adorable and no doubt you have the photos to back it up.  But market a product called “Your Baby Can Read!” and you better have real proof.  According to a lawsuit filed by the FTC, ads for the “Your Baby Can Read!” program made false and deceptive claims that the product could teach infants and toddlers to read.

The ads were everywhere — on network and cable television stations like Lifetime, Discovery Kids, Disney DX, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, as well as on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.  In addition, people could buy the product at major retailers across the country.

What did the company say the product, which retailed for about $200, could do?  One ad showed tots as young as 14 months old identifying words on flash cards.  Later in the ad, a mother says:  “I saw the program when I was pregnant and said we had to have it, especially with all the testimonials. . . . So I think at three months is when we had started Your Baby Can Read and she loved it.  And then I think about the nine month mark, she was starting to pick up the words.”

A print ad for Your Baby Can Read! said “Imagine . . . Your toddler reading YOU a story!”  In a TV ad, a two-year-old is shown reading Charlotte’s Web aloud:  “And she took hold of the axe and  . . .”  (We didn’t remember Charlotte’s Web as being quite that spine-tingling, but we’ll take her word for it.)  By three,  that same little girl “read her first Harry Potter book and she fell in love with it.”Another three-year-old  was equally amazing.  According to her mom, “I have a film of her on vacation.  She walked up to a ‘Beware of Mountain Lion’ sign, and it’s three paragraphs and she just read it to us.”  There on the screen was the little girl warning her parents, “Make plenty of noise while you hike so as to reduce the chances of surprising a lion.  I read it to you, too.”

Just proud parents and precocious kids?  Not according to the ads.  Both broadcast and print promotions featured the endorsement of Robert Titzer, Ph.D., “who created the revolutionary early learning system for his own daughter.”  Over a dizzying array of charts, graphs, and statistics about synaptic formation, sensory pathways, and the like, Dr. Titzer emphasized that the program’s results were backed by proof:  “In all of these tests, the control group babies were at average or below average, whereas the Your Baby Can Read group babies had overall higher language scores.  They had cognitive functioning scores higher than the control group babies.  The Your Baby Can Read group babies did better than the control group babies in every area.”

Pretty impressive stuff — or at least impressive enough to generate more than $185 million in sales since 2008.  But according to the FTC, the proof didn’t live up to the promises.  The complaint alleges that the ads made false and deceptive claims that the program teaches infants as young as 9 months old to read, that kids will be able to read books like Charlotte’s Web and Harry Potter at 3 or 4, that the program will allow them to perform better in school and later in life than kids who don’t use it, and that scientific studies prove that the program can teach infants and children to read.

Named in the complaint are Your Baby Can LLC, the corporation behind the promotion;  Hugh Penton, Jr., President and CEO of Your Baby Can until March 2010;  and Dr. Titzer, who became Your Baby Can’s Executive VP in 2009.  The FTC also charged that as an expert endorser, Dr. Titzer didn’t exercise his purported expertise in infant research in the form of an examination or testing of the program at least as extensive as an expert would normally conduct to support the conclusions he made in the ads.

Hugh Penton and the corporate defendant have agreed to settle the FTC’s charges.  The order bars them from misrepresenting the efficacy of any product advertised to teach reading or speech, enhance cognitive ability, or provide a broad variety of other benefits.  Here’s a provision FTC remedies watchers will find interesting:  The order bans their further use of the trade name “Your Baby Can Read!”

The settlement also imposes a $185 million judgment, the company’s gross sales since January 2008.  Once the corporation pays $500,000, the remainder will be suspended due to its inability to make additional payments because of its failing financial condition.  Your Baby Can has represented that it’s going out of business, but if it turns out the financial information it gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.

The FTC’s lawsuit against Dr. Titzer is pending in federal court in California.

 

7 Comments

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Interesting, how goes with lawsuit and court right now?

Regards,

Sarah

Hi, Sarah. The case is currently scheduled to go to trial in August.

I purchased the program FULL WELL understanding that, like most ads, this was likely an overstatement. That being said, both my kids were READING BEFORE their first birthdays. Additionally, it's flash cards and DVDs of kids reading you the words from the flash cards and showing images of them. To be perfectly honest, my aunt did a similar thing with my cousin when he was a toddler, only in Spanish and using flash cards taped to household items. He was also reading as a toddler. Okay, skipping ahead to my kiddos. My 2 year old reads at a kindergerten level EASILY...and is nearly done with the first grade sight words. My 4 year old is reading the "difficult" end of the 3rd grade reading level according to our librarian here in CA. Again, WITH EASE. I'm sad to see that the guy went out of business over a few embellished ads. I don't disagree that he should've been hit, in the wallet, but like drug manufacturers! The FDA just makes them send out a few new ads with the brutal truth...that plus a fine would have been more than plenty. Because it's not just flash cards, the kids WANT to be like the kids on the screen. They learn better from other kids. And it's not like I plop them down in front of TV all day - it's 15 minutes, twice a day, and the rest is all hands on work. And honestly, it's only $200, once. It's not like he's asking for monthly fees to be part of a program or something. And you can try it for $15! You think it's a joke? Send it back. All I can say is I wouldn't even have tried to teach my kids to read or do math or anything before the age of 3 until I saw this. Now my kids are learning addition, subtraction, obviously reading, doing comprenhension activities...etc, etc. It opens your eyes to the fact that YOU can teach your kids. Who needs preschool? I sure as hell don't! My guys are starting with kindergarten, well ahead of their peers. ;) Anyway, to each their own. I appreciated the program and didn't buy in to the little bit of false advertising he (and millions of others) did/do.

Bonnie,
Your abuse of the English language is appalling! (not uphauling) Don't write run-on sentences. Learn how to punctuate. Heaven help your children.

Kids shouldn't even be watching TV until age 2, so there's that. There are a lot of ill effects from it.

Interesting. And I am happy to see this lawsuit in action. Some kids are just better at reading than others, don't need hundreds of dollars of a program to prove that.

I am uphauled that there is a lawsuit against Dr. Titzer. He is a genius for making these videos! I used them for 2 of my children. I wish I used it for my first but I did not know about them. One of my kids that I used them on just turned 7 and is entering 2nd grade- he is reading at a middle of fourth grade level! That's 2 and a 1/2 grades above his level! Thanks to Dr. Titzer! My other child is almost 3 and a 1/2 and he can read words at a second grade level and harder. The claims he makes are valid. If a parent continues to work with their child after using these videos there is great potential for a child to be reading Harry Potter. The videos lay the foundation at the early age needed to be able to read harder words after they are done with those videos. After my kids learned all the words from those videos they were able to read many other words. If they came across a word they didn't know i would tell them once and they would remember it. The videos gave them the ability to memorize other words so easily. My friend is also using the videos in the way Dr. Titzer described and her baby is reading as well. Dr. Titzer should be thanked not sued!!!!! His method of teaching children to read could have helped children all over the world from struggling with learning how to read! Shame on the FTC for suing him! It's common sense that a child wouldn't be able to read Harry Potter right after using the videos but a parent who continues to work with their child would be able to because the foundation needed would be there thanks to the videos! Get your facts straight first from people like me who have used his videos in the way he says. For those children it didn't work for it is because the parents did not follow the instructions. I wish Dr. Titzer could contact me, I would definitely show proof that his videos work!

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