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What is Advertising Law?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2019
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Advertising law is an area of the law pertaining to advertisements, including radio and television ads, print advertisements, billboards, and other forms of communication with consumers. This area of the law varies considerably by jurisdiction, and some nations have a government agency in charge of identifying violations and enforcing the law. Attorneys specializing in advertising law can assist companies with the development of new ad campaigns as well as legal defenses in the event that there is a court challenge regarding a specific advertisement.

Advertising law usually requires companies to maintain honesty and accuracy in their ads. They cannot make deceptive or false claims with the goal of manipulating consumers into making a purchase. Particularly with products pertaining to health and safety, the rules are very strict, as consumers could be put at risk by believing false claims. Companies making statements about the health benefits of a product need to back them up with supporting data such as studies verifying the efficacy of the product.

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Companies are allowed to use promotional language to make their products seem more appealing, and they can directly challenge competitors as long as they do so in a way that is not unfair. A company could claim, for instance, that its lunch bags are superior to those made by a rival manufacturer, as long as it has study results to support the claim. Companies are also allowed to offer promotional rates and discounts and to use other tools to attract customers, as long as customers understand what is on offer. For example, people must know that a promotional rate will only last for a set period of time.

To evaluate advertisements, attorneys and government regulators think about the hypothetical reasonable consumer, an average person who might encounter the content. An ad that says “the best taste ever” might be deemed advertising puffery, the legal use of exaggerated language to talk up a product, as reasonable people know that this is a subjective statement. An advertisement saying “this product cures colds” would be on shakier ground, as it is making an objective health claim without supporting evidence.

The government can bring suit against companies with ads that violate the law. Other companies can do so as well, if they can show that a company's ad is hurting their business and appears to transgress the rules. Lawsuits over advertising law can be expensive, and a company that knows it is unlikely to win may be willing to settle out of court to avoid attracting attention, as consumers often react negatively when companies sue and do poorly in court.

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