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Hydroxycut: Product Recall Website = Apologia

In Product recall on June 2, 2009 at 3:19 pm

After the FDA received 23 reports of serious liver-related injuries and advised consumers to stop taking Hydroxycut, the maker of the weight-loss supplement recalled its products.

As part of its effort to deliver this recall, both the official sites for Hydroxycut and Hydroxycut Max were redirected to a new “information site” addressed as hydroxycutinformation.com/. So what information did the company highlight on that site?

In terms of information, the website does provide a brief description of the liver-related injuries. And the website does a good job of specifically listing 14 different Hydroxycut products that are part of the recall. Images of product labels would have been easy to add and useful for quick identification, but at least the product names are clearly listed.

The website also clearly states that consumers should stop taking the product; however, it is carefully worded that the FDA (and not the maker of Hydroxycut) urges consumers to stop taking the product.

Finally, the website provides some information regarding product returns–though that information is at the very bottom of the site and consists of one sentence informing consumers to “return their product directly to the place of purchase.”

All told, the items described above (the liver injury reports, the products impacted, the advice to stop taking, and the return information) make up just over 1/7 of the website’s content.

The rest of the website’s information would more accurately be described as another instance of corporate apologia.

When we analyze the product recall “information” through the lens of apologia, we see three major strategies are communicated through the text. First, there’s the obvious minimization. For example, in a number of places the company refers to the reports of liver injury as “a small number of reports relative to the many millions of people who have used Hydroxycut.”

Another example of minimization is the website’s reference to “adverse events” to describe the injuries and illnesses reported. Going a step further, the website’s text mixes minimization with denial by defining “adverse” merely as “any unexpected or unintended event that happens while an individual is taking a dietary supplement, whether or not the supplement caused the event.”

This denial is subtle, but can be seen in other places as well, such as when the company states that its “own assessment of the potential risk associated with the use of these products differs from that expressed by the Agency.” In other words, as far as they’re concerned, there isn’t a problem.

So, why issue the recall?

According to the website, it’s “out of an abundance of caution and because consumer safety is Iovate’s top priority.”

Here we see bolstering (aka: aligning oneself with positive attributes/values, instead of focusing on the issue at hand) taking over. In this case, the bolstering comes in the form of promoting the company’s dedication to safety. In fact, an entire section of the website is devoted to answering the question: “What steps do you take to ensure the safety of Hydroxycut-branded products?” The answer is as follows:

“We conduct internal analyses of individual ingredients, and undertake extensive medical, scientific and toxicological literature reviews on the safety of the ingredients during the development stage of each product. Additionally, third-party experts from the leading independent scientific firm specializing in ingredient assessment, toxicology and product safety for the nutritional and pharmaceutical industry review the safety of Iovate’s ingredients and formulas before products are introduced in the marketplace. Only after this external review is completed does Iovate release a formula.”

Two paragraphs later, we see almost the same wording used to answer why the products are being recalled:

“Every product marketed by Iovate is evaluated during its development for the safety of its individual ingredients. Additionally, independent third-party experts from the leading independent scientific firm specializing in ingredient assessment, toxicology and product safety for the nutritional and pharmaceutical industry review the safety of Iovate’s ingredients and formulas before products are introduced in the marketplace. Only after this external review is completed does Iovate release a formula.”

In the end, this analysis demonstrates how the http://www.hydroxycutinformation.com/ website is less about information. Instead, it’s more about minimizing the problems associated with Hydroxycut, while promoting the company’s dedication to safety.

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