New York, NY – April 20, 2023 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate body of BBB National Programs, recommended that Smile Prep, LLC:
The advertising at issue had been challenged before the National Advertising Division (NAD) by Smile Direct Club, LLC. Following NAD’s decision (Case No. 7131), Smile Prep appealed.
The challenged claims appeared on the SmilePrep.com website, which presents its reviews and ranking of clear aligner companies and their products and services as editorial content. Smile Prep has affiliate relationships with some, but not all, of the companies whose clear aligner products and services Smile Prep reviews and ranks on their website.
The NARB Panel agreed with NAD on its key finding – that Smile Prep’s editorial process is impacted by the reality that Smile Prep is a for-profit entity and that its only source of revenue are the commissions generated by affiliate links and paid to it by its aligner-supplier affiliates/partners. As NAD found in the underlying decision, the NARB Panel concluded that Smile Prep’s editorial staff is aware of the affiliate relationships, as these relationships are disclosed on the website.
Clear Aligner Rankings and Reviews Claims
The NARB Panel affirmed NAD’s conclusion that Smile Prep failed to demonstrate that it uses its five-point analysis in formulating its aligner rankings.
In agreement with NAD, the NARB Panel concluded that, because of the material financial relationship between Smile Prep and its aligner partners, Smile Prep is obligated to have proper support for aligner performance claims promoting the products and services of its partners.
Because Smile Prep produced no testing or other evidence that would support these product claims, nor did it provide evidence to show that its editorial staff has the training or expertise to assess technical aspects of aligner performance, the NARB Panel recommended that claims such as the following be discontinued:
Claims of Independent, Unbiased Assessment
In agreement with NAD, the NARB Panel concluded that Smile Prep’s reviews and assessments are influenced by the commissions earned from the aligner affiliates and that Smile Prep should not be representing, directly or by implication, that its assessments are independent and unbiased.
Further, the NARB Panel determined that the Affiliate Disclosures on the website are not sufficiently prominent to overcome the implied message of independence and, in fact, downplay the significance of the commission arrangements.
In the underlying decision, NAD recommended that Smile Prep clearly and conspicuously disclose that Smile Prep’s rankings, reviews, and product information of the clear aligners of its affiliate partners are advertising.
The NARB Panel concluded that NAD’s recommendation is appropriate, noting that under the circumstances presented the rankings and reviews of the affiliates/partners are advertising, and a clear and conspicuous disclosure will alert consumers to the true nature of the website.
Smile Prep stated that it “agrees to carefully consider the NARB’s decision and modify its website in a good faith effort to address each of the concerns identified.” However, Smile Prep expressed concern that the decision “imposes a standard of disclosure that goes well beyond the existing guidance the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued for third-party reviewers, as well as current industry norms.” Smile Prep further stated that it “believes that it is presently in full and robust compliance with the law and all applicable FTC guidance regarding affiliate disclosure practices, and that any changes to that framework should be applied industry-wide.”
About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs, a non-profit organization, is the home of U.S. independent industry self-regulation, currently operating more than a dozen globally recognized programs that have been helping enhance consumer trust in business for more than 50 years. These programs provide third-party accountability and dispute resolution services that address existing and emerging industry issues, create a fairer playing field for businesses, and a better experience for consumers. BBB National Programs continues to evolve its work and grow its impact by providing business guidance and fostering best practices in arenas such as advertising, child-and-teen-directed marketing, data privacy, dispute resolution, automobile warranty, technology, and emerging areas. To learn more, visit bbbprograms.org.
About the National Advertising Review Board (NARB): The National Advertising Review Board (NARB) is the appellate body for BBB National Programs’ advertising self-regulatory programs. NARB’s panel members include 85 distinguished volunteer professionals from the national advertising industry, agencies, and public members, such as academics and former members of the public sector. NARB serves as a layer of independent industry peer review that helps engender trust and compliance in NAD, CARU, and DSSRC matters.