How Common Are Cases of False Advertising?

N. Madison

Cases of false advertising were more common in the past, but today it is hard to say how much it still occurs. Many jurisdictions have laws against misleading advertisements, and consumers can report advertisers who fail to adhere to their advertising claims. In such a case, a company accused of false advertising may face some type of penalty. Unfortunately, however, many advertisers are still able to use subtle forms of false advertising to mislead consumers without experiencing any trouble with the law.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Blatant cases of false advertising are often less common in places that have laws against it. In the past, it was far more common for advertisers to make outrageous claims about their products since they didn't have to fear of any sort of punishment. Many years ago, an advertiser might claim that his products could make a person taller or guarantee results that weren't possible or likely. Today, advertisers generally have a harder time getting away with these things because consumers and competitors can report false claims and cause legal trouble for the company that made them. It is important to note, however, that blatant false advertising may still prove common in places that lack enforceable laws against it.

There are a variety of ways a company can commit false advertising. Often, it occurs when a company misstates or outright lies about its products, but it can also occur when a company fails to disclose a vital fact about its products. A company can also prove guilty of false advertising when it bases its advertisements on faulty research. Likewise, discrediting or misrepresenting another company's products can also fall under the heading of false advertising. Even bait-and-switch schemes, in which a store lures a consumer in for a product it's not really selling in the hopes of getting the consumer to buy a more expensive product, count as false advertising.

While many companies are careful to avoid blatant cases of false advertising, some companies subtly mislead on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many companies are able to get away with this for a few different reasons. First, before a company faces legal consequences, a consumer or competitor must prove that the company made a false statement, that the statement was deceptive, and that the statement could influence decisions to buy. Likewise, the party who files the claim must also demonstrate that the false advertising injured him or will probably injure him in some way. Since plaintiffs in cases of false advertising have to prove their cases, subtle forms of this deception often slip through unreported.

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