Many concerned for their health followed blogger Belle Gibson who claimed to have survived brain cancer. Belle Gibson's claims to have cured her cancer when conventional medicine and treatments failed her. She capitalised on her fame with a successful app and a cookbook. The magazine, Elle named her “The Most Inspiring Woman You’ve Met This Year”, while Cosmopolitan awarded her a “Fun, Fearless Female award”. Penguin published her cookbook. Apple pre-installed her app on the Apple Watch and flew her to its Silicon Valley launch.
Gibson launched The Whole Pantry app in 2013, filled with healthy living tips and recipes. She promised a third of proceeds from the 300,000 downloads ($3.79 per download) would go to charity. But the money allegedly never reached the charities and cracks began to appear in Ms Gibson's story. She later admitted to the Australian Women's Weekly magazine that none of her claims was true.
Subsequently Apple pulled the app from its stores and Penguin pulled The Whole Pantry from circulation in Australia, and its US publisher scrapped its April launch. Penguin Australia agreed to pay A$30,000 to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund as a penalty for not checking the facts before releasing the book. They did not verify the health claims made.
In May 2016, the State of Victoria announced its intention to commence proceedings against Gibson’s company after an in-depth investigation into Gibson’s alleged breaches of federal and state consumer law involving her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, her rejection of conventional cancer treatments, and the charitable donation of proceeds. Pecuniary penalties total up to A$1.1m for companies and A$220,000 for individuals.
It seems that the temptation for fast money with its lifestyle was just too much for Gibson to forget her legal obligations and the ethical standards expected when she went into business. It is extraordinary that her deception would not only fool cancer sufferers but also the Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines, Penguin Books and Apple, who I would have thought would have verified the claims she made.
It is not easy to build a business which is sustainable for the long term. Yes, it has become easier to connect with our target customers with the internet today, but we should not forget our instincts that if it seems to be too good to be true then it probably is.
If Apple and Penguin Books had only checked they could have saved themselves the embarrassment and considerable costs. No matter the circumstances always verify.
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Michael posts on topics relating to organisational growth and excellence
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