BBB National Programs Inc.’s advertising division supported the vast majority of statements from orthodontics disruptor SmileDirectClub, Inc. (ticker: SDC) after rival Align Technology, Inc. (ticker: ALGN) filed a confidential complaint in an apparent effort to hurt its competitor.
The National Advertising Division issued a statement Monday in support of all of SDC’s material statements regarding the treatment, which has been targeted by both traditional players in the dental world as well as ALGN, which filed its complaint without public announcement. The Division substantiated “certain express claims regarding the ability of its Smile Direct Club Clear Aligners to correct bite issues,” it said in a statement Monday.
The main suggestion from the Division was that SDC make clear it can address “mild-to-moderate malocclusion” in six months rather than broader dental issues. However, any additional disclosures would appear marginal: SDC already states prominently on its website that its “clear aligner system is designed for minor to moderate teeth correction” and all patients must be approved by a practicing dentist or orthodontist who has reviewed their teeth.
The Division also suggested SDC, which is far cheaper than traditional orthodontics or ALGN, refrain from making statements about a cost difference from a specific competitor. SDC no longer makes any such statements on its website or marketing materials. Neither SDC nor ALGN could be reached for comment.
The complaint by ALGN is the latest abortive effort by a member of the dental world to derail SDC, which has disrupted the industry by offering inexpensive treatments that require few or no doctor visits but effective results. SDC, whose private investor roster included Sand Hill Road heavyweight Kleiner Perkins, went public just as the 2019 IPO craze was falling apart. It soon found itself uniquely in the crosshairs of multiple parties, some of which had a history of making self-serving – even misleading – statements.
Most notable of those is the American Dental Association (ADA), which lodged complaints with both the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. While the ADA went as far as to purchase ads in The New York Times celebrating its “active petition,” nothing has ever come of either gripe.
These days, both the incumbent orthodontics industry and ALGN have even more reason to worry about SDC. During the coronavirus pandemic, orthodontists aren’t considered an essential business so their doors generally remain shut. Similarly, ALGN patients need to make visits to the dentist.
Meanwhile, SDC has long offered a remote service that continues during the lockdown. Potential patients are sent an impression test, which is then sent to a dentist or orthodontist who evaluates it before clearing for treatment.
What’s more, customers are likely to be even more cost-conscious in these tough times. An SDC treatment costs $1895 with $250 down. That compares with $3,000 and up for ALGN and even more for most traditional orthodontics.
John Jannarone, Editor-in-Chief