Truth in advertising requires accurate claims
How many times have you read a claim on a menu, sign or ad that states, “Worlds’ best ….”. Have you ever questioned such a wild assertion?
United States law requires truth in advertising. This is not new. Laws have been in place for decades requiring manufacturers ensure their claims are clear and well-substantiated. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states:
What truth-in-advertising rules apply to advertisers?
Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:
- Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
- Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
- Advertisements cannot be unfair.
Consumers are protected from unsubstantiated claims
In fact, in the last several years due to new laws, consumers may have greater confidence in the validity of advertisers’ claims.
Spokespersons in ads must be labeled as actors or endorsers and all claims stated must be marked as either a paid endorsement or an uncompensated testimonial. Though the FTC does tell us, “Statements from satisfied customers usually are not sufficient to support a health or safety claim or any other claim that requires objective evaluation.”
Ads airing on television which offer “success stories” for weight loss or inventors’ successes must alert consumers that these claims are exceptional, or not normal. In InventHelp’s TV ads their announcer states, “experience not typical and most inventions are not successful.” From Tweeters to bloggers to doctors, people endorsing products have to state their relationship to the manufacturer.
Legal decisions support truth in advertising
Two high-profile national brands have had legal penalties assessed following class-action lawsuits asserting their advertising and marketing claims were false.
Vibram, maker of the “FiveFingers Footware” has been compelled to pay damages for making “claims that FiveFingers footwear is effective in strengthening muscles or reducing injury.”
Kashi, a cereal line from Kellogg, has agreed to remove “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from their advertising and packaging. The lawsuit brought against the firm alleged that their ingredients were not naturally occurring as used in the product line.
When can “best” be used?
If you comprehend today’s consumer mindset, wild claims raise red flags. It’s far better to have consumers vouch for your product in self-authored reviews social media sites such as Google+. Consumers trust consumers far more than they trust brands’ claims.
On the other hand, if your product has won an award or received a prize in competition and you actually have something to tout – tout away – with attribution! When you have the recognition do as the U.K’s Tom’s Ale does, you may announce it on your label.
Though if you continue to claim an award 15 years after winning it and have not won it since, you may want to revisit your claim. Dated claims feel deceptive. Charleston seafood restaurant Hymans has used a decades-old award from Southern Living to sway eaters to their doors. As blogger Aaron Goldman notes in his post, this is perhaps untrue because as Goldman states, the restaurant “was described to me as a ‘tourist trap’.”
Tips for authentic advertising
So the next time you want to assert that your services are the “best” remember:
- You must have evidence to support your statements.
- Highly successful results used to advertise your services must carry a disclaimer, especially if typical or average results vary significantly from your claim in the ad.
- Evidence used to prove a claim ought to be recent and credible.
- Use customer testimonials referencing your product’s quality or effectiveness, but let others know how how or why or where the individual made the statement.
- If you have a famous person endorsing your product, make sure you note whether or not have been compensated for their endorsement and what their relationship is to your brand.
- If you have given or loaned a product to a blogger or journalist to test or try, make certain they and you disclose this.
Being observant and mindful of these six items will help you ensure you conform to FTC guidelines.
Photo credit: Top image, Ben Sutherland via Flickr Creative Commons; Second image of Old Tom from the Old Tom website, third image credit to Aaron Goldman.