Cosmetics company L'Oreal sells products, such as shampoo, hairspray, and mascara, under the "L'Oreal Paris" brand name. Does the brand name -- that includes the word "Paris" -- communicate to consumers that the product was made in France? That was the issue in a recent case in federal court in New York.
A consumer sued, alleging that L'Oreal's labels violated California law as well as the consumer protection laws of forty-three other states. On the front of the labels, the brand name, "L'Oreal Paris," is prominently displayed. The back or side of the packaging also includes a disclaimer that explains that the product was manufactured in the United States or Canada. The consumer alleged that, because of the brand name (and because she didn't see the disclaimer), she incorrectly thought that the products were made in France.
In order to state a claim under California law, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege that the advertising is likely to mislead a significant number of reasonable consumers. The court explained that, "Context, including the presence of disclaimers, is crucial in determining whether a reasonable consumer would be misled by a particular advertisement."
The court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that reasonable consumers are not likely to be misled by the packaging. The court wrote, "As a matter of law, a mere reference to Paris is insufficient to deceive a reasonable consumer regarding the manufacturing location of a product." Noting that the company was founded in Paris and has its global headquarters there, the court further held that "L'Oreal has a right to use its brand name to correctly indicate that its products belong to the L'Oreal Paris brand."
The court simply didn't buy the argument a consumer would take away anything from the brand name other than the fact that the company originated in Paris, "particularly because each product also contains a disclosure on the back label stating the manufacturing location."
In response to the consumer's argument that consumers should not be expected to look for disclaimers, the court held that, "The front label is not so misleading that a reasonable consumer who cared about the country of manufacture should not be expected to look at the full packaging for a disclaimer, which was clearly and correctly provided on the labels of each product [the consumer] purchased." The court also pointed out the fact that the packaging never actually claims that the products were made in France.
Finally, the court also didn't think that it mattered that there was French language on the labels. The court wrote, "The mere presence of words in a foreign language is insufficient to mislead a reasonable consumer."
Eshelby v. L'Oreal USA, 22 Civ. 1396 (S.D.N.Y. March 27, 2023).
"Context, including the presence of disclaimers, is crucial in determining whether a reasonable consumer would be misled by a particular advertisement"