By: Walter Ohlmann
I find it quite incredible, considering the amount of federal and self-regulation imposed on our industry in the last two decades, to run across three separate articles on deceptive advertising practices in a recent issue of ADWEEK. In the first three pages nonetheless! What’s going on here? How is it that with specific statutes covering content of advertising, type of product advertised, price discrimination, fairness and barriers to competition – not to mention five major pieces of federal regulation on advertising, nine separate federal regulatory bodies and a well-established self-regulation system – that this has become a spotlight issue again?
Perhaps it’s time to revisit the basic principles covering truth in advertising. I happen to like the way the American Advertising Federation put it in 1984:
- Truth – Advertising shall reveal the truth, and shall reveal signification facts, the omission of which would mislead the public.
- Substantiation – Advertising claims shall be substantiated by evidence in possession of the advertiser and the advertising agency prior to making such claims.
- Comparison – Advertising shall refrain from making false, misleading or unsubstantiated statements or claims about a competitor or its products or services.
- Bait Advertising – Advertising shall not offer products or services for sale unless such an offer constitutes a bona fide effort to sell the advertised products or services and is not a device to switch consumers to other goods or services, usually higher priced.
- Guarantees and Warranties – Advertising of guarantees and warranties shall be explicit, with sufficient information to apprise consumers of their principal terms and limitations or, when space or time restrictions preclude such disclosures, the advertisement shall clearly reveal where the full text of the guarantee or warranty can be examined before purchase.
- Price Claims – Advertising shall avoid price claims, which are false or misleading, or savings claims, which do not offer provable savings.
- Testimonials – Advertising containing testimonials shall be limited to those of competent witnesses who are reflecting a real and honest opinion or experience.
- Taste and Decency – Advertising shall be free of statements, illustrations, or implications, which are offensive to good taste or public decency.
In the final analysis, it comes down to an issue of ethics, decency, and fair dealing. None of us should forget that we have a responsibility to the buyer, to our clients and to ourselves to be honest in all of our dealings – to persuade on the basis of fact, not fiction, and to challenge ourselves to sell from core strategy and creativity, not connivance.