While they stopped short of copping to selling cheery tubes of snake oil pills, the makers of popular “anti-cold” herbal supplement Airborne have agreed to settle a class-action false advertising lawsuit for $23 million.
Turns out the “double-blind, placebo-controlled” study Airborne claimed proved the efficacy of the supplement was two guys in a motel room with a Dora the Explorer chemistry set:
GNG is actually a two-man operation started up just to do the Airborne study. There was no clinic, no scientists and no doctors. The man who ran things said he had lots of clinical trial experience. He added that he had a degree from Indiana University, but the school says he never graduated.
Of course, Airborne has money to spare. The company made about $100 million in 2006, according to the New York Times, largely on the strength of its innovative product positioning on store shelves:
Airborne carved out its niche through a combination of catchy commercials, star power and savvy placement on drugstore shelves. Dietary supplements are usually gathered in one place and cold medicines in another, but Airborne usually sits right next to NyQuil, without the trouble of Food and Drug Administration testing and approval.
Oprah Winfrey, Howard Stern, Kevin Costner and other stars endorse the product, and the teacher-inventor has appeared on the “Dr. Phil” and “Live With Regis and Kelly” television shows and others, chattering away about Airborne’s benefits.
But, but, but I just know it works
Full disclosure: Pax Arcana has purchased and used Airborne — before a flight from Vegas to Boston in 2006 when I was feeling a bit fatigued and scratchy in the throat. I felt better after landing in Boston, but I suspect that had more to do with leaving the hostile ambient environment of a hotel/casino than with the cheap vitamin supplement I paid $15 for.
I doubt I’ll do it, but if you’re so inclined, you can head to this Web site to apply for reimbursement for your Airbone purchase. And next time, just take some Vitamin C or, you know, something with actual medicine in it.
Makers of Airborne Settle False-Ad Suit With Refunds [New York Times]
Fake cold remedy Airborne settles lawsuit — get your cash back [Boing Boing]