Thursday, March 06, 2008

Airborne Losing Altitude

Airborne, the miracle cure to the common cold, has just lost a class action lawsuit by customers for deceptive advertising, with $23 million in damages. Aw, what a shame.

Thank you to the more than 100 readers who sent me an email alerting me to the news. Many asked if I had something to do with the lawsuit. Not directly, but I'm guessing that the plaintiffs submitted into evidence the Scientific American column featuring my blog post on Airborne's deceptive marketing.

And now that there's a scandal to report, suddenly people are paying attention to the experts. "Have you heard?" "It's all over the news." "Omigod! I can't believe it!" "It's true, I saw it on E!" The very pop science that elevated Airborne to a billion dollar company is now sending this rocket crashing back to earth. Here's what a popular Hollywood news site reports:

Airborne is shit!!!! The company has just settled a class action lawsuit for $23 million!!!!

"There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment," David Schardt, a nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a written statement this week. "Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that's been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed."

We feel lied to!!!!!

Over the last two years I have received endless emails and blog comments (most of which, I confess, I "moderated" away) maligning the FDA as corrupt for refusing to approve "non-Western" medicine. Now that they can spin conspiracy theories around a new villain (a certain second grade school teacher's billion dollar corporation), perhaps they will acknowledge that the FDA has good reason not to approve scammy, new age, bullshit medical claims.

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  1. Anonymous2:30 PM

    I think people would have treated that product a little differently if instead of being "invented by 2nd grade schoolteacher and her husband" it was "invented by a novelist and screenwriter and his wife"

  2. so, then how do the knock-offs (i.e. CVS, Walmart, Brooks/Rite-Aid Air Defender) fit into this scenario and what happens with their identical products?

  3. Anonymous7:11 PM

    $23 million? That's peanuts! Do you really classify this as a "loss" for them?

    Heck, you're a VC... wouldn't you consider such a settlement a "win", if you were an investor?

  4. Anonymous,
    You are absolutely correct that the $23 million loss is juts a flesh wound to Airborne Health, Inc. But the much more important damage is the public exposure of Airborne as a master of deceptive marketing. Word of mouth is now working AGAINST Airborne.

    I think the me-too copycat products will be off the shelves even faster.

    Here's a study showing women with lower blood-ascorbate levels had higher risk of cervical cancer. There's a lot of evidence that vitamin C reduces cold duration and can reduce incidence if the person is exposed to harsh physical conditions previously which would lower blood-ascorbate levels.

    Lysine increases macrophage levels.

    The big problem seems to be the use of artificial (racemic) beta-carotine and vitamin-e rather than the (enantiomerically pure) natural forms of these anti-oxidants.

  6. An amusing anecdote: I worked with an angel (former Intel Exec) on a startup several years back. We were making a pitch to a Saleforce guy who had a cold. My associate was pumping Airborne and I was uncomfortable. Should we be exposing ourselves as charlatans like this? Anyway, bottom line is that if my suspicion meter fires, I run away...

  7. I was disturbed to find that most of my co-workers all used Airborne. After I informed them of what little I know about the product, they swore that it works. Hopefully this latest development will grant them more wisdom on this matter.

  8. Anonymous12:57 PM

    The problem is if people "believe" something works, then most often it does. "Oh I took Airborne too late for this cold but it still helped me anyway. I only had a cold for 5 days instead 7 days this time. This stuff works great!" Blah blah......C'mon...use your brain and eat right, get enough exercise and sleep, and the chances of you getting sick get lower and lower. I get a cold or flu once every 7-10 years. I've never taken Airborne so what's my secret? Just what I said above. Good luck people.