Wednesday, July 15

Paying Fines: Lifestyle Lift

According to The New York Times, Lifestyle Lift, a national cosmetic surgery company with 80 doctors working in offices spread across the U.S., settled with the State of New York over its attempts to fake positive consumer reviews on the Web. The company will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to the state.

An "attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative and illegal,” Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general told The New York Times.

The $300,000 in penalties and fines will likely be the least of the company's damages. If the Mich.-based company felt negative reviews hurt its reputation as reported, the damage caused by fake reviews will become a blemish that will be hard to overcome.

Adding insult to self-inflicted injury, the attorney general’s office shared one e-mail that instructed employees to "devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client.” Thomas Seery, founder of, where Lifestyle Lift has more than 18o negative reviews, called it right when he said "It’s an incredible violation of consumer trust and it’s a pernicious element of the Web that some companies have embraced this idea, under the guise of reputation management.”

Make no mistake, writing a fake review is not reputation management, especially from a company that carries a "Truth In Medicine" paragraph on its Website. It also pledged that "all Internet communications accompanied by the trademarked Lifestyle Lift logo are fair and accurately represent the latest in medical information about facial firming procedures."

Faking The Net Is No Way To Manage Communication

When a company is bombarded with hundreds of negative reviews, the temptation to fake reviews might be overwhelming.

It's especially true when some reviews include comments such as "I am getting depressed and worry about looking like a freak forever," "My scars are not so bad, but my sister's scars seem to move away from the ear line to the center of her cheek as time goes by," and "My mother has horrible scars from this & her ears are numb. She also has severe pain, constant pain." All of them include procedural costs that ranged from $1,500 to $8,000.

And while the Website claims "satisfying clients has led to unparalleled growth," a simple Google search seems to reveal a different explanation all together. Websites and/or affiliate program sites here, here, here, and here seem to be the sad secret to the its success. Assuming what seems like dozens of sites will eventually be removed, you can read more reviews uncovered by the Consumer Alert Report here.

The fallout doesn't seem to be limited to the practice. The Post-Standard included a local angle that alleges "Dr. Douglas W. Halliday, an ear nose and throat doctor with an office at 4939 Brittonfield Parkway, is listed on Lifestyle Lift's Web site as one of its physicians. Earlier this year, the state fined Halliday $20,000 after he was accused of injecting patients with an unapproved drug he told them was Botox."

When you add up all the damage done to this company in the months ahead, the original reviews and $300,000 fine will be miniscule when compared to the local journalist and consumer investigations of its doctors, more women with problems come forward to share their stories, other AG offices consider launching their own investigations, and a mostly unforgiving online public weighs in on what it thinks of astroturf.

Considering Lifestyle Lift doesn't seem to have any semblance of a crisis communication plan in place, we suspect it's a company in trouble. Its story, as once seen on Montel, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and even in an endorsement from David Griffin who appeared as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, will be replaced with another meaning all together.

Survivable? Perhaps a few months ago. Today? It will take a living case study to know.


Theresa111 on 7/17/09, 7:00 PM said...

This is an eye opener and who would have guessed?

Rich on 7/19/09, 9:33 AM said...


Um, the FTC maybe. They stayed out of our way for a good number of years, but if companies keep abusing the system (when they don't need too), regulations will likely move too far toward consumer censorship.

The whole thing is silly. Companies don't have to fake reviews or erect a mountain of Web sites to be effective online, assuming a high percentage of their customers don't have long term damage.



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