Feds: ADT Paid “Independent” Experts To Shill For Pulse Security System

That's Safety Mom on the right, pushing ADT Pulse on the Today Show without revealing she was paid by the alarm company.

That’s Safety Mom on the right, pushing ADT Pulse on the Today Show without revealing she was paid by the alarm company.

When you see a so-called expert on the Today Show talking up a product, you might reasonably assume that this expert is giving you an honest opinion that hasn’t been tainted by cash or gifts. Alas, not every company is up front about the fact that they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their product mentioned on TV by not-exactly-independent experts.

According to a Federal Trade Commission complaint [PDF], home security biggie ADT paid a total of $300,000 to three different experts — 2/3 of that total to one expert alone — to make TV and radio appearances to shill for the ADT Pulse system. In addition to the cash, two of the human advertisements received $4,000 worth of security equipment from ADT as compensation.

Even though ADT booked these dozens of media appearances, offering interview suggestions and B-roll footage to interviewers, the segments featuring these experts rarely mentioned any connection to the alarm company, instead describing the guests as experts in child safety, home security, and technology who were there to share their professional advice; not shill for a product.

In fact, the FTC alleges that ADT sometimes took steps to deliberately make it even less obvious that these experts were being paid to push the company’s product.

“The paid spokesperson sometimes demonstrated other child safety, home security, or technology products, in addition to the ADT Pulse, adding to the impression that the spokesperson was providing an impartial, expert review of products,” reads the complaint.

The FTC provides examples of one expert, the author of the SafetyMom.com site, who appeared on the Today Show as a “national family and safety expert,” touting the features of the Pulse system to show hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.

During the segment, Safety Mom talks up the features of the service and its affordability; she even says “It’s amazing!” but is never identified as a paid spokesperson or endorser of the product.

According to the terms of the proposed deal with ADT [PDF], the alarm company is prohibited from misrepresenting that any discussion or demonstration of a security or monitoring product or service is an independent review provided by an impartial expert. It must also make clear and prominent disclosures about any relationship between an endorser and the company.

ADT must also remove reviews and endorsements that have been misrepresented as independently provided by an impartial expert or that fail to disclose a material connection between ADT and an endorser.

“It’s hard for consumers to make good buying decisions when they think they’re getting independent expert advice as part of an impartial news segment and have no way of knowing they are actually watching a sales pitch,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When a paid endorser appears in a news or talk show segment with the host of that program, the relationship with the advertiser must be clearly disclosed.”

Of course, we can’t do a story about disingenuous endorsements without including a little Mass Effect: