There are a number of organizations that regulate advertising and prevent advertisers from making false claims about products. In the US, the federal trade commission is responsible for most of the regulation. Its job is to protect consumers and competitors from deceptive and unfair advertising.
Deceptive advertising is defined as any ad that contains a "misrepresentation, omission, or other practice that is likely to mislead the consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances, to the consumer's detriment." (FTC Chairman James Miller III)
Unfair advertising occurs when a consumer is "unjustifiably injured" or when there has been a "violation of public policy."
Among the specific violations the FTC investigates are:
If an advertiser makes a claim about a product, he must have data that supports the claim. For example, if Burger King claims that their Whopper beats McDonald's Big Mac two to one in taste, they must provide the FTC with the results of their taste test.
Celebrities who endorse products can be held personally liable for any false claims they might make. They are expected to ensure that the claims they make are true.
One of the most convincing types of advertising is the demonstration. Like anything else, advertisers must be able to substantiate the claims made in the demonstration. Some notable cases in which a demonstrations proved to be deceptive include:
In a 1960s commercial, advertisers wanted to show that Rapid-Shave shaving cream could shave even sandpaper. However, the "sandpaper" used in the commercial was actually plexiglass covered with sand. The FTC ended up suing the Colgate-Palmolive Company, makers of Rapid-Shave.
In one of its television commercials, the Volvo car company showed a monster truck rolling over a row of cars, crushing every one except the Volvo. It turned out however, that the Volvo had been reinforced with steel beams and the frames of the other cars had been weakened. Volvo ran newspaper ads to apologize and paid Texas (the state where the ad was shot) $316,250 to avoid a deceptive advertising lawsuit.
The guidelines for television demonstrations are as follows:
- No television demonstration may use any mock-up, model, or any material which pretends to be something else, without disclosing this fact to the audience.
- Any visual or demonstration of a product must be absolutely accurate and truthful.
(Chief Justice Earl Warren)
- Courtland L. Bovee and William F. Arens. Contemporary Advertising.
- H. Ted Busch and Terry Landeck. The Making of a Television Commercial.
- Carol Moog, Ph.D. Are They Selling her Lips? Advertising and Identity.
- Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda.
- Leslie Savan. The Sponsored Life.