False Advertising: Legal or Illegal?

Is false advertising illegal? Yes, of course. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought.

False Advertising: Legal or Illegal?

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Well, for just about as long as I can remember, most companies have lied or mislead us in one way or another. Sure, there’s a lot of fine print and red tape and most companies are likely using legal loopholes. But, what about the ads that are blatantly and insultingly lying to us? No one seems to be doing anything about it and it’s apparent these ads are getting through the FTC.

Let’s watch a few (in my opinion) false or at the very least, misleading advertisements:

(unfortunately, the original video is gone and this is the closest I could find — all the same, just as ridiculous)

The only fine print in the entire advert is “HIRED ACTOR”, when the guy says: “I got a MacBook Pro Laptop for $67“.

Brand new Honda Civic for $1,800.” Red Flag! They stated: “Brand new“. That eliminates the catch that it might be used or damaged. So, are they blatantly lying to us and if so, how is this legal?

It could be as simple as any company can say anything they want. If no one challenges it, then they’re good to go. Perhaps it would have to be proven in a court of law that it’s false. The burden of proof and expense would be on the part of the person accusing them of unethical advertising practices. And because who wants to do that, commercials and other types of ads, for years now, have been able to say whatever they please.

My problem with this advert is the clear, misleading nature of the before and after. The before is of them frowning, messy hair, no makeup at all. The after is a big smile and professionally done hair and makeup. Guthy Renker is notoriously the kingpin of these misleading advertising techniques, especially with Proactiv.

If after watching even five seconds of these adverts, it doesn’t turn your stomach from the extremely obvious tone of trying to relate to you on an emotional, even sentimental level, you’ve already lost. You’re a consumer.

They’ll pay celebrities big dollars to come on and work up a few tears and go on about how this amazing product saved their lives. These are professional actors people, don’t forget that. These companies are feeding on people’s insecurities and vanity. It’s sort of a “Look at this huge star, even they had skin problems too.” approach. But, now that they’re “saved”, look at their wonderful career. You can have that too.

All these companies want is your money. They do not care about you or your well-being. What they’re trying to do is be your friend: “We know kids can be mean, but we’ll help you for three easy payments of $29.99.” Mostly, this is common sense stuff and as far as the law is concerned, probably circumstantial. But, wait a minute, what about the commercials that ironically prove their own lies? Isn’t that hard evidence on the record?

Let me break down the most obvious false advertising that I personally see:

  • They give their spiel about how amazing their product is and express that you’re dumb, if you don’t buy it through customer testimonials. (a lot of subtle insult techniques are used, although ironically, buying something that you see on TV is usually a pretty dumb thing to do)
  • They give a ridiculous price, then break it down: “$100? No. $50? No. $25? No. You’ll only pay $19.99 for the amazing do-all spatula. But, wait there’s more… we’ll throw in another spatula for free!” (truth is, they’re actually selling spatulas for $10 in the first place, which is a horrible deal)
  • Finally, the real kicker: “If you call in the next 5 minutes (or are one of the first 50 callers), you’ll save 25%.” (you see the countdown or caller count increasing: 3 – 12 – 13 – 17)

Anyone with a healthy amount of intelligence already knows this is complete BS. But, that’s just speculative right? Where’s the proof? That’s the simple part. The paid programming comes on at 3 in the morning, or 5. Sometimes on two networks at once, overlapped (but, they didn’t start at the same time). Where’s the red flag? That caller count happens exactly the same way, every time: 3 – 12 – 13 – 17.

So, it couldn’t be clearer. It’s all made up and the counter is pre-recorded. They’re blatantly trying to trick you with urgency to get you to call and order instead of thinking about it too long, which will likely end in you deciding it is indeed a wrong purchase to make. This is clearly morally and legally wrong?

Now, what we knew with common sense anyway, we now have irrefutable time-stamped proof in the eyes of the law, right? I can’t say for sure. The law is actually pretty gray and messed up, certainly not tipped toward a balance of fairness.

So, what’s to be done? I don’t feel like going after individuals or companies would accomplish anything. It’s about changing the standards for what’s allowed in the first place. But Bryan… I thought false advertising was already illegal? Well, so did I, but most companies seem to have done it just fine for the last 50 years or so and no one has done anything about it or seems to care.

Why is it such a big deal? It’s insulting to basic human intelligence. To you, to me, to everyone. It’s wrong. And most importantly, they do manage to take advantage of some people that later make complaints.

I just don’t know… thoughts? Share experiences or links to other false advertisements. Oh yeah, I do run my own ads. Normally I like the ads on my blog like Gmail or Google stuff. I’m 100% ethically okay with that, but I do moderate and block ads from time to time that are junk. Let me know if you see a bad ad and I’ll block it.