Popular brand caught over bogus claim
Eyewear retailer Oscar Wylee has been slapped with a $3.5 million fine after its widely marketed charity campaign was found to be bogus.
The Federal Court has penalised the chain for misleading and deceptive conduct related to its "buy a pair, give a pair" promotion, incorrectly promising consumers it would donate a pair of glasses to "those in need for every pair purchased".
But Oscar Wylee failed to follow through with this pledge.
Over a five-year period, it sold 328,010 pairs of glasses but donated only 3181 frames - without lenses - to charity.
"Oscar Wylee promoted its charitable activities as a core reason why consumers should buy Oscar Wylee glasses, but its claims were false and were made in circumstances where consumers could not easily verify these claims for themselves," Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
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"The misleading conduct also portrayed Oscar Wylee as a socially conscious company that made significant donations of glasses to people in need, which, because this was not true, unfairly differentiated it from other brands in the market."
"At the same time, Oscar Wylee deprived disadvantaged people in need of the benefits it promised in its advertising."
The Federal Court has also exposed the retailer's assertions of its generosity to the organisation Rose Charities.
Between January 2014 and December 2018, it made statements such as "we have partnered with Rose Charities which helps build sustainable eye care programs in Cambodia" and "we're funding Lim studying to be an eye surgeon so he can keep taking solutions into his own hands".
But Oscar Wylee was slammed by Federal Court Justice Anna Katzmann after it was revealed this connection with the charity consisted of a single $2000 donation and 100 frames in 2014.
The company continued to promote a generous partnership with Rose Charities up until 2018 despite providing no further donations.
"Oscar Wylee stood to profit from inducing consumers to purchase its products and still does," Justice Katzmann.
"It built its reputation by engaging in the contravening conduct, appealing to socially conscious consumers who wanted to support charitable causes through their purchasing behaviour. Its conduct was a betrayal of that promise."
In 2013, Oscar Wylee promoted a video it produced under its "I care for eyecare" slogan, which featured clips of a Rose Charity eye clinic in Cambodia.
"Every Oscar Wylee glasses purchase will help restore vision in developing regions," the company claimed.
"Oscar Wylee helps out through a range of different ways. From the performance of eye tests, distribution of glasses, performance of cataracts surgeries, and training of eye doctors."
The consumer watchdog slammed this promotion as misleading, deliberately pulling at the heart strings of shoppers to gain an unfair edge over its rivals.
"Oscar Wylee has taken advantage of the charitable nature and goodwill of consumers and its behaviour risks diminishing consumer confidence to support other businesses that genuinely engage in philanthropic activities," Ms Rickard said.
"This penalty should serve as a reminder for any company considering making false claims to its customers in its marketing material, whether online, by email, on video, on social media or in store."
In a statement provided to news.com.au, the company said it has taken steps to amend its actions that were found to have breached Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
"Oscar Wylee has taken corrective action in response to the court action and in line with our ongoing commitment to corporate social responsibility," it said.
"We have donated 336,585 pairs of glasses frames and $80,000 cash donations to charities supporting eyecare for the disadvantaged. We have also adopted a strict Trade Practices Compliance Policy, directed to the protection of consumers, and appointed a Compliance Officer responsible for its implementation.
"Oscar Wylee acknowledges the importance of the issues raised by the ACCC and sincerely regrets the contraventions of the ACL."
Originally published as Popular brand caught over bogus claim