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Loose Truths – The Business of False Advertising

With the rise of panacea detergent that can remove any stain, “healthy” junk food, and indestructible cars, it sort of seems like the world today has reached a utopian status reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Sleeper.These products sound too good to be true for a reason on a global scale, we live in an economic ecosystem that relies on coaxing consumers into purchasing bigger, better products to fulfill needs that don’t necessarily change significantly over time. While United States consumers have been protected from false advertising since the Lanham Act in 1946—which outlawed deceptive advertising practices outright-marketers continue to teeter on a precarious fulcrum between the factual functionality of a product and its more fantastical properties.

False advertising is a tricky business in itself, and its influence fans across a wide gamut of nuanced marketing niches. For the student and entrepreneur, knowing how to define and push the limits in advertising is important for personal growth. For the artist, the writer, or the political campaigner, spreading the message of your product in a way that promotes genuine interest in facts is pivotal to establishing brand trust. And for the consumer, of course, it’s always nice to know when you might be paying for something that won’t provide what it claims to—not because it doesn’t want to, but because it simply can’t.

False Advertising Law

Snake oils and patent medicine have been prevalent for many years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the United States saw a need to enact laws to protect consumers from deceptive advertising. Today, legislation exists on both a state and federal level that helps safeguard consumer trust while also preserving a marketer’s freedom of speech. As you can imagine, the balance between these two pivot points is extremely fragile.

Academic reading on false advertising law:

More on false advertising law:

Recent Scandals in False Advertising Law

Thousands of cases involving misleading advertisements have appeared in courthouses around the United States. A small sampling of recent cases can be found below, some of which are still being aggressively pursued in the courts.

Marketing Political Candidates

Unlike other types of advertisements, campaigns for political candidates do not follow the rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Trade Commission. Since these campaigns promote people, commercials and other ads are governed by different constraints that both help and hinder hopeful government officials.

False, or just Misleading?

False advertising is a common claim for a lawsuit, but proving that a company knowingly misinformed its customers is extremely difficult. Here are some of the subtle differences that distinguish illegal advertising from that which is simply misleading—in the legal arena the difference is often opaque.