Sports concussion prevention claims: What marketers need to know
Whether you’re a full-pads athlete or a quarterback of the Monday morning variety, you’ve read reports about sports-related concussions. But before marketing a product advertised to reduce the risk of those injuries, businesses should take a careful look at the FTC’s settlement with Pennsylvania-based Brain-Pad, Inc.
Brain-Pad markets mouth guards with the promise that they'll provide protection from concussions. Ads say the products will “Reduces risk of CONCUSSIONS!” A print ad was even more specific: "Reduces the risk of concussions from: facemask impacts, chin cup forces & direct lower jaw impact."
The company also sold the Brain-Pad Pro-Plus Junior. Parents concerned about their kids’ participation in contact sports may have taken note of claims that the product “creates new brain safety space!" and "Reduces Risk of Concussions! From Lower Jaw Impacts.”
Buyers didn't just have to take the company's word for it. As the packaging proclaimed, "Tested and proven to reduce risk of internal head injuries and concussions from lower jaw impacts" and "BIOMECHANICALLY TESTED & PROVEN."
But according to the FTC's complaint, Brain-Pad didn’t have sound science to back up its claims. Sure, mouth guards can help shield an athlete’s teeth and some may even reduce impact to the lower jaw. But it’s a big leap between saying that and making concussion prevention claims. Thus, the complaint alleges that Brain-Pad made misleading representations that their products reduce the risk of concussion and that scientific studies supported what they said.
Under the settlement, which names both Brain-Pad and its president, Joseph Manzo, the defendants will stop claiming that their mouth guards reduce the risk of concussions from lower jaw impact, reduce the risk of concussions generally, or have been scientifically proven to provide either benefit. The settlement also prohibits them from misrepresenting the health benefits of any mouth guard. What about other athletic equipment the defendants may market with brain protection claims? They’ll need competent and reliable scientific evidence to support what they say.
Let’s be clear. Health experts have raised serious concerns about concussion risks. That’s why athletes, sports fans, and parents alike are hoping for an effective technological solution to the problem. But before marketing any product to address those risks, companies need to back up their promises with appropriate substantiation.
What can consumers take from the case? Scrutinize health-related ad claims and get guidance from a wide variety of trusted sources before making a purchase. For more on sports-related concussion risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC — has free downloadable toolkits custom-designed for parents, coaches, young athletes, and health professionals. Visit the CDC’s Heads Up site for multimedia resources on preventing, recognizing, and responding to concussions.