Minnesota company My Pillow’s sweet dreams were made of a patented open-cell, poly-foam design created by inventor Michael J. Lindell. The pillow, a staple of late-night TV infomercials, was an American success story. It has sold some 18 million pillows since the first sale in 2005. My Pillow’s Twitter feed showed celebrities like actors Frankie Muniz and Neil Patrick Harris, former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and, most recently, GOP nominee Donald Trump accepting a My Pillow into their lives.
My Pillow promised comfort, coolness and, as Lindell described it in one commercial, an ability to keep sleepers from “flip-flopping all night long like a guppy.” Lindell told Consumer Reports in February that My Pillow ads ran nightly across the U.S., and up to 10 times daily on the Fox network.
The ads worked. At $50 a chunk-foam-filled pop, the company earned $100 million annually for the past several years, per a Minnesota Star Tribune report.
But a recent lawsuit successfully argued My Pillow overstated its claims, deflating the pillow company’s meteoric rise. Last Wednesday, 10 district attorneys from California sued My Pillow in Alameda County Superior Court, in Oakland, alleging the company had engaged in deceptive and false advertisements.
My Pillow claimed it could prevent sleep loss associated with insomnia, restless leg syndrome, neck pain, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, migraines and other ailments. This caught the skeptical eye of consumer watchdog group Truth in Advertising.org, which investigated the claims and argued there was no support from scientific evidence.
TINA.org also took issue with the fact that Lindell used the title of “sleep expert,” though he had no formal training as such. My Pillow promoted itself as the official pillow of the National Sleep Foundation – without disclosing the company had a financial relationship with the organization. The consumer group said it supplied information from its investigation to officials in California, one of the states where My Pillow advertises.
On the same day that the district attorneys filed the suit, My Pillow settled for civil penalties amounting to $1,095,000, $995,000 of which will be allocated to the California counties. The settlement also appears to have smothered the pillow company’s public relationship with the National Sleep Foundation. TINA.org said that prior to the suit, the foundation sold the pillows on its website but it no longer does so.
The pillow company scrubbed the medical claims from its adds in California, and may not make any such statements until it has conducted clinical trials. My Pillow counsel Joe Springer told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that the company stopped claiming the pillows had health benefits even before the trial. TINA.org agreed, noting that My Pillow erased such claims from its website homepage shortly after the group issued a warning letter in February.
“With this settlement, we are able to avoid a costly and drawn out court case and turn our attention back to our number one passion, our customers,” Lindell said in a statement. He told the Star Tribune the company did not admit fault, preferring to “pay out rather than pay millions to prove our innocence.” The company also said it will donate $100,000 to California nonprofits as part of the settlement, to support the homeless and domestic violence victims.
A separate California class-action suit brought against My Pillow, which also settled in October, allows households that purchased a pillow to claim a $5 refund.
The quest to find the perfect pillow need not be an epic one. Robert Gotlin, director of Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s orthopedic and sports rehabilitation, told the New York Times in 2015 that as a rule of thumb, if a pillow feels comfortable, it’s a fit.
“The real answer is, there is no answer,” Gotlin said to the Times. “Foam or any of these pillows with the divots, the cutout supports, these are marketing items that have their own research attached that supports their claims. The best advice is to just pick one that feels good.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ben Guarino