Nivea's special slimming cream known as My Silhouette may not actually slim women's bodies, but it's fattening the bottom line of the Competition Bureau.
The bureau announced Wednesday it is levying a $300,000 penalty for "false or misleading advertising" against Beiersdorf Canada Inc., the distributor of Nivea products which had claimed its My Silhouette cream could erase as much as three centimetres from "targeted body parts, such as thighs, hips, waist and stomach, while making the skin better toned and more elastic."
The claims, which the company insisted were scientifically proven, were made on packaging and on the Nivea website.
In anticipation of the Competition Bureau finding, Nivea says it began removing My Silhouette from store shelves across the country last month. The company will also pay $80,000 in costs associated with the bureau's investigation, which began in April, 2010, following a consumer complaint.
"Beiersdorf misled consumers by claiming a person could slim down by simply applying a skin cream," said Melanie Aitken, Commissioner of Competition. "Unfortunately, consumers who purchased My Silhouette learned the hard way that there was no such easy fix."
The finding follows a $900,000 charge issued in June against the U.S. division of Beiersdorf by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for similar false advertising, a decision upheld last month. In that case, the FTC accused Beiersdorf of buying sponsored online search results on Google, so when consumers searched for "thin waist" or "stomach fat" they would be served up Nivea ads.
The FTC also objected to a TV commercial for the cream showing a woman, her impressively firm torso on display, digging out an old pair of slim jeans from storage and trying them on in front of a battery of mirrors, as her smiling husband looks on approvingly. As Feist's Mushaboom plays on the ad's soundtrack, a voiceover declares that the cream "visibly firms skin in just four weeks," and "helps reshape your body's appearance and the way you see yourself."
The ad also touted the cream's so-called Bio-Slim Complex, a combination of ingredients that includes anise and white tea.
Nivea's parent company noted that the consent agreement with the Competition Bureau does not imply wrongdoing. "Beiersdorf Canada does not accept the Bureau's views," it declared in a written statement. "Performance claims and testing related to Nivea My Silhouette are supported by independent research, which has always complied with Canadian requirements and guidelines."
Nivea still sells a number of other so-called "firming" creams, including Goodbye Cellulite, touted as an "anti-cellulite gel."
Though cellulite-battling unguents have been growing in popularity, Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Competition Bureau, could not recall any similar false advertising claims findings against any other cosmetics brand in recent years. Still, he said, "I think we're confident this particular announcement we're making sends a message to the cosmetics industry – or any other industry for that matter – that this type of false or misleading representation is not something we're going to tolerate."
The agreement may not end Beiersdorf's troubles over My Silhouette. After the FTC decision, a Montreal-based lawyer launched a class-action suit to recover the money spent by consumers on the cream. A Laval woman in her late 30s complained, "I measured myself and it did nothing at all, even after five tubes."
So far, 16 consumers have joined the suit.