"Probably more pseudo-scientific nonsense has been written about the human mouth by advertisers and more millions of dollars wasted on the mouth by consumers than any other part of the body," read a line from "How to Select a Toothbrush," in the first issue of Consumer Reports in 1936.
For us, being on the side of consumers has always meant challenging advertising. In 2013, that doesn't stop at the mouth.
Wear this! Parents will do pretty much anything to keep their kids safe, a point that's not lost on marketers. Certain pricey models of sports helmets are claimed to protect against concussion. But a University of Wisconsin study of high school football players found that no brand did better than others at reducing the number or severity of concussions. A bill now in Congress, endorsed by Consumers Union, bans false or misleading claims about the safety benefits of helmets.
Take this! Drugmakers spent about $2.5 billion last year on ads urging you to "ask your doctor" for their brand-name drug. But the ads rarely tell the whole story. They might imply that a drug works wonders for everyone when it's only marginally better than a placebo. And they tout new drugs that don't have an established safety record. We've long pushed for less direct-to-consumer drug advertising, more disclosure of drug-trial results, and a strong reliance on treatments that are proved to work. (Visit our Best Buy Drugs page for more information.)
Drink this! The energy-drink industry wants you to be awake! The supercharged drinks might be fine for adults, but the marketing, packaging, and placement—often near soda and juice—is largely targeted at teens and younger children. Consumer Reports' 2012 tests found that caffeine levels, which aren't required on the label, can be more than twice that of a cup of coffee. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children and adolescents should never consume the drinks, which in 2011 sent almost 1,500 kids to the emergency room.
Today's ads, which assault us in increasingly surreptitious ways, push products we probably don't need and that might not be safe. Caution, consumers.
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.