Truth in advertising…


This week, let’s cut straight to the chase… does truth have any place in advertising?  Do we require advertisers to keep some tangible connection to truth, or is truth merely a concept, something that we understand can be stretched beyond recognition when it comes to marketing a product?  Do companies have an ethical obligation to insure truth in their advertising?

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37 responses to “Truth in advertising…”

  1. Indira Vilchez says :

    I was able to find something that addresses the first two questions of this forum. In the website of the Bureau of Consumer Protection under an article called “Advertising FAQs: A guide for small business,” truth seems to have a place in advertising; whether or not business actually follow these, I am not certain but I do know that advertising should be truthful and “clean” if companies want to build consumer-brand loyalty.

    “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.

    Additional laws apply to ads for specialized products like consumer leases, credit, 900 telephone numbers, and products sold through mail order or telephone sales. And every state has consumer protection laws that govern ads running in that state.”


    According to the laws mentioned in this article, companies have to comply so, yes, companies do have an ethical obligation to communicate truthfully with the consumer as that is what will help them sell. The article doesn’t address in detail what types of ads can be used so companies can get away with a lot here. For example, imaginary advertising such as Coca-Cola’s where they show that their sodas could make you feel as if you were at the beach when you drink it. This ad is a bit deceiving because we know drinking a soda wont take us to a beach, but people think its fun and they much rather dream of being at the beach. On the other hand, alcohol ads show people having a good time at parties and such, and even though they warn you to drink moderately they do not say that these products are highly addictive; therefore, I believe this type of ads is deceiving because people seek to feel as good as the people in the ad and instead they end up becoming alcoholics. Sometimes companies forget about the consumer’s welfare and just think about the profit they can make. Some will say they are selfish; others, that is just business.

    • geary Johnson says :

      Very insightful and well developed post Indira.
      As you stated companies do have the ethical right to communicate truthfully to the consumers with evidence of their claims, be truthful an non-deceptive. I often think about the new commercials that have nothing to do with the advertised products, when the man and women are on the beach play catch and they run into a washer and dryer. Is this considered deceptive? or is this a misdirection in advertising? If the company never tells you the details or features of the product and you purchase it are they now off the hook.

  2. geary Johnson says :

    According to the bureau of consumer protection, claims in advertising must be truthful and cannot be deceptive or unfair. The advertising must be evidence based and apply to all rules when dealing with children, endorsements and health claims. This can be found at

    With that said, the goal of advertising is to brand your product with effective advertising and marketing. As the key to a successful company I inventory turns and customer loyalty, it is inherent that companies be responsible with advertising that is truthful and ethically non-deceptive. Companies have an ethical obligation to inure truth in the advertising whether it be paper, internet, radio or television, the truth is the truth and this is what peaks the consumer interest or curiosity to purchase a product or look further into the company which could either gain the company a repeat customer or foster advocates against the product and the company.

    • Kelly Kirschner says :

      Sorry, Geary, I’m going to pick on you but only ’cause I like you….and I can’t get the image of a man and woman running into a washer and dryer on the beach that you have not planted in my brain (???).

      Others have alluded to and you mention,” it is inherent that companies be responsible with advertising that is truthful…” Is Amazon truthful and not deceptive in its reviews of merchandise offered?

      Yes, supposed dirt or negative views can be found on practically any company, subject or issue these days on the internet. I think there’s a pretty fine line here, though. Paid reviews sound innocent enough but it appears that the reviews are meant to help “advertise” the product, in which case they are not objective reviews at all.

      This is not meant to disparage Amazon— it’s a great company— and I’m not trying to personally give you a hard time. Well, maybe.

      • BriceY says :

        Wow…a shot across the bow…. Will the truthful “Vine” reviewer please stand up! Sunbird Farms PO Box 2727 Visalia, CA 93292 559.697.5433

        “Sunbird Farms is NPIP certified in CA, #CA-410 and a member of the Livestock Conservancy (formerly ALBC) and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the UK.”

      • Andy Haussler says :

        I have to admit, since the highlighting of how Amazon’s top reviewers are managed by Amazon, my faith/belief in the reviews that I once depended on has eroded. To me, the reviews are a differentiating feature Amazon has, the deterioration of the value of this feature will hurt Amazon in the long run. Full disclosure and/or other methods to encourage reviews should be considered to ensure Amazon’s dominant place in the on-line retail market.

      • BriceY says :

        We turned to Amazon reviews because they were “real.” That’s why it hurts so much.

  3. Gabriela Flores says :

    Truth holds value amongst advertising because it will get you long term customers. If you provide the consumer false information you will jeopardize your long term relationship. You might see short term success but will fail in the long term.
    In reality advertisers don’t bluntly lie they simply make things appear better than what they really are and allow you to fill in your own blanks. For example McDonald’s burgers give you what they promise hamburger buns, patty and all the other condiments, but they do not look as appetizing as their advertisements.
    Ethically yes companies do have an ethical obligation to ensure truth in their advertising. As consumers we have the ability to do our research and make educated purchases.

    • Kristen Gardner says :

      I agree with your statement regarding McDonald’s. They provide everything their ‘advertisements’ say, yet the pictures look nothing like the real thing and are hoping potential customers fall for the amazing looking hamburger on TV knowing all long that they will only be providing the bare minimum. But unfortunately people want the cheap hamburger and accept the deceptive advertising because if they were to make it an issue, McDonalds might raise their prices.

      But unfortunately I think a company’s bottom line is more important than their ethics and we have seen it happen time and time again with MNE’s. Big businesses will make very unethical decisions just to increase their profits even if it is temporarily.

  4. Jez Balsa says :

    Deception could be considered a synonym for marketing when it comes to advertising. However, blatantly lying about the features of the product does not and should not exist. Be very cautious of advertisements that have small print at the bottom or too good to be true. Companies should feel a sense of obligation when marketing their products. There are ways to get your message across without deceit or intentionally lying. For example, the Corona commercials show a corona bottle on a beach being enjoyed by a couple. The sound of the waves in the background while the glistening sun shines above. The message here is that drinking corona is relaxing. Nothing deceitful whatsoever.

    Now the Enzyte commercials touted “natural male enhancement.” The commercials displayed a man who after taking Enzyte displays a new form of confidence. The man is constantly smiling and a few of the scenes are designed to display his male enhancement in a round about way. An article I found here reveals the following.

    – Former VP admits that much of the content of the Ad was made up
    – Doctors were fictitious
    – Customer satisfaction surveys were fabricated
    – Credit cards were charged monthly without authorization
    – Customer complaints were handled by making the money back process as cumbersome as possible by requiring a notarized statement by a doctor certifying that Enzyte did not work

    And my favorite quote from the article cited the former VP as saying “He said it was extremely unlikely someone would get anything notarized saying they had a small penis.”

    This type of marketing, while clever, is wrong on all accounts both ethically, socially, and has no place in the market. To quote the YouTube sensation Sweet Mama Brown, “Ain’t Nobody Got time fo dat.”

  5. Kelly Kirschner says :

    Wow— everyone thus far believes that advertising messages and imagery should be truthful and non-deceptive. I am in that camp, as well. I really like what Gabriela said: “Truth holds value amongst advertising because it will get you long term customers.” I firmly believe this is true not only of advertising but in life.

    So now for the tough part… has anyone actually been in the position to sell or market products directly to a customer? Has anyone had to look someone in the eye and tell them the bare-naked truth about that product…and how did that go? Or what about omitting some of the issues or facts? I don’t know.

    No one wants to be lied to, and advertisers should not knowingly deceive or lie in order to make a sale. In a somewhat loose analogy, is a husband wrong telling his wife she doesn’t look fat in those jeans, trying to sell her on his acceptance? Can he look her in the eye and say, “well, seeing as you asked….”

    While we all want the truth and believe the truth is paramount, there are probably times we accept non-truths— even in advertising. I’m not saying advertising should start out untruthful; that’s different. I think we’d find there’s a fine line between ‘selling’ and ‘marketing’ that is difficult to define as “untruthful” or “deceptive.”

    • Andy Haussler says :

      If a lie, or untruth is told, and it damages a party then I think that is a problem. The husband telling a wife she looks great in a pair of jeans does not damage anybody. That being said, if a product is marketed in such a way that makes claims that are false and this results in damage/disappointment by a consumer this is a problem. In past roles I have been a realtor for the City and have held a policy that all aspects are not only disclosed to a potential buyer but we do everything we can to insure the potential buyer understands those issues. I often wonder how lender’s omission of fact really hurt buyers as we muddled through the great recession, and eventually hurt us all. My point is the truth will always will set you free in the long run. If your product can’t sell under this policy, your product needs some work.

  6. Kristen Gardner says :

    I absolutely think companies have an ethical obligation to tell the truth in marketing campaigns. Why should a company be allowed to lie to its consumers and convince us of one thing, when in actuality their product or service is something else? As a consumer I am more willing to support a company who I find to be truthful and honest in their marketing approach and will go out of my way to ensure I do not support companies who act unethical. I think stretching the truth is such a bogus excuse.

    Take for example Excedrin products. They have extra strength, migraine, menstrual cramps, tension, and back & body. If you have ever looked at the ingredients they are all the same—Acetaminophen, Caffeine, and Aspirin. The only difference is the price they charge and the different quantities in each box. To me that is deceptive, misleading and unethical. They are telling us a version of the ‘truth’, but the truth is convincing us that we need an individual product for all those different symptoms when in actuality only one of them will solve everything. I understand they are in business to make money, but lying to me or deceiving me to make money is not how you do it.

    I also do not think truth is merely a concept. I think big business exploits the truth to the fullest extent to draw customers to their product or service but it doesn’t make what they are doing right. As stated above I will go out of my way to ensure I do not support businesses like that and if more consumers made the conscious decision not to support dishonest or deceptive businesses, I think we might eventually see a change. But until we decide we want more and demand more truthful marketing, nothing will ever change.

  7. Sheng Her says :

    I agree with many posts on here, truth definitely has a place in advertising. Companies have an ethical obligation to insure truth in their advertising. Many have posted about the FTC, who is the primary enforcer of the federal advertising laws. Under the FTC Act, companies are not allows to run ads that are deceptive and misleading. This single handedly explain why companies should add truths to advertising, they are obligated to.

    Marketing and advertising is a reflection of a company’s core values. If a company is going to mislead a product worldwide so it can boost sales, that really defines what kind of company it is. I wouldn’t support a company that is selling me something that is completely something else. Nobody wants to be mislead. In the business world, I don’t think companies would enjoy being misled to as well.

    During hard economic times, companies may rapidly make decisions to invest a lot of resources to advertise their products in a way to entice potential customers. While doing this, companies needs to consider the long term effects. Advertisements just can’t be about being engaging and creative, it has to be about building an experience, building share values and ultimately loyalty from consumers.

    • Eddie Mendez says :

      What if a company is selling a product that is right for you but not for me. Is that unethical. No because you believe in the product. You are getting a benefit from the product. All this means that I need to find a similar product that would benefit me. People are too different to fit in a cookie cut mold.

  8. Eddie Mendez says :

    Truth should have a place in marketing but I think it is up to the person. Truth is perception. What is true to me many not be true to you. I may like a pair of shoes and someone else may hate them. These are both truths and they are both correct.

    Some people may say the marketing lies but it depends on the person. The Iphone commercials speak to some people and they believe its the best phone out there. Others people love the Samsung commercials and love their phones. Who know what is really the best out there. Commercials tell you what you want to hear or what you think you hear. It is all opinions.

    I feel companies have an ethical obligation to tell the truth but some people do not care about the truth. Truths are different for every person. I think marketing companies know this and they are always try to sale. They take advantage of this. I do not believe they are being unethical because we our all different.

  9. Andy Haussler says :

    In short, truth does have a place in advertising. If the truth is just a concept, then the confidence in a company’s claims about a product will deteriorate. This will reduce sales and the brand’s value once the truth is known. A company does have an ethical obligation to ensure the marketing of a product is honest. This is both to the consumer and to its shareholders as falling short, or stretching the truth, will hurt both parties in the long run.

    While I think there is a place for creativity, such as the Coke commercial creatively conveying a message that there is a party in every bottle. While there isn’t the literal party in every bottle as Coke conveys, they are speaking a truthful message that the product can be enjoyable to some people. It would be an issue for me if Coke claims it is a weight loss product, or it has some health benefits that are false. That is misleading and can cause damage to the misled consumer and eventually the company. Coke is currently facing negative action for an ad campaign that shows the ways in which a Coke’s calories can be “burned off”. The suit claims that the ad was less than truthful, or clear, and misled consumers, and is now hurting Coke in Britain. A link to the ad and details on the issue is below:

  10. Jesse Carlos says :

    Marketing requires innovations and creativity. By requiring advertisers to only promote tangible connection to truth is like telling Hollywood that everything in their movies must be accurate and truthful. I feel like over the years people have become too sensitive and conservative. People have individual minds that allow them to make personal decisions based on their experiences and knowledge. Advertisements do not force people to buy; it simply exposes a product to the consumer. If the product fits with their lifestyle then they have the freedom to purchase it.

    Working with established brands such as Bacardi, Jack Daniels and Grey Goose has allowed me to view advertisement from the producer side. TV commercials target a 21-35 year old consumer base. If a 12 year old happens to watch a Bacardi commercial and the parents have not informed the child of the laws and regulations or their personal values then it will allow the 12 year old to make a decision based on what he/she knows or doesn’t know. It is the parent’s responsibility to educate their kids about their personal values and legal standards. I feel like it is becoming more common for parents to blame others for the actions of their kids when in fact the responsibility lies within them. The American culture does not like to admit responsibility or failure which is why alcoholic beverages, tobacco and infant formula have been blamed for their lack of responsibility.

  11. Omar Ruiz says :

    This is the ultimate slippery slope… Truth is subjective. So with that said I think that yes, as a general rule advertising companies should be truthful when presenting facts about past and potential performance of their products. The problem is that most advertising nowadays, well at least most good advertising really have little to nothing to do with the actual product and more so have to do with a selling a fantasy. As we become increasing savvy researchers for purchasing everything from bottled water to plasma TVs advertising companies need to continually think outside the box and deliver a message that cannot be researched on a customer review board, or blog. We should not obligate companies to ensure truth in their advertising. Companies will self regulate because they recognize the price of not telling the truth. Flat out lying or making false claims is short sighted.

  12. Felicia says :

    False or deceptive advertising should not exist when marketing products, customers have the right to know what they are buying and packaging should be labeled correctly. Even though, there are laws to regulate and control false advertisement, companies still find ways to deceive consumers in ways that are legal or technically illegal but unenforceable. Furthermore, companies should have ethical obligations to uphold the law of promoting truthful not false advertisement. “First do no harm” is the oath of the medical community but it should also be a word of honor for all business industries. Some business mentality is focused on generating a profit by any means necessary; therefore neglecting ethical standards. The unethical and false advertisements marketed by companies are eventually revealed to consumers which will undermine credibility and reduce profitability.

  13. Tracy Neufeld says :

    This is why I am horrible at sales and marketing. I think the truth should be in marketing. If I don’t believe in a product completely or cannot provide all caveats, there is no way I could sell it. The people in sales have gifts beyond my capabilities.
    Our culture and basic human nature shows that even when provided with truth in advertising (e.g. 8 out of 10 women claim a reduction of wrinkles or a perception of a reduction of wrinkles after using this product for 6 months), the product is still a best seller without empirical evidence.
    Using this opinion, I think the truth should be applied to marketing exports regardless of what is legal. If a product is harmless, then let them buy snake oil. If it is harmful, then let them make an educated purchase.

    • LDermon says :

      Tracy, I agree on the fact that if the product is harmful, the company should let the buyer make an educated decision. The best example would be cigarettes or alcohol: both harmful, people know it but still buy them!
      I think advertisement should not recite facts but tell a story, inspire the viewer. If advertisement would be about facts and truth, then nobody would aspire to improve their current situation knowing it is hopeless ( for example those products that help you lose weight).

  14. caleb says :

    Advertising legend David Ogilvy said it best: “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” There is something to be said about the power of the marketplace to help regulate truth in advertising. As Ogilvy implied, consumers will find out if your product can’t deliver on the promises it makes in advertising. And if it doesn’t, then your brand will suffer.

    I don’t think there is anyone in this class who will legitimately argue against truthful messaging. What we may disagree on is how much one can tell the story without crossing the line. For example, in packaged food marketing, most brands are doing professional product photoshoots with foodstylists. Is that truthful? Or should they be opening up the box and taking a picture of what comes out? Again, I would argue that consumers will help set an invisible guide rail of what is and isn’t acceptable.

    What many advertising critics may not understand is that storytelling does not equal dishonesty. Consumers like the comfort of having a trusted brand. They may choose Robutussin cough syrup over the generic brand, even though it’s the same product. But that doesn’t mean the name brand is unethical; it means they’ve built a reputation that justifies a higher price.

    Lastly, beyond the consumer check and balance mentioned, there are also other measures that help encourage truth in advertising. If we make claims on TV commercials (e.g. “We’re preferred to Coke and Pepsi), most networks (and their legal teams) want to see back-up and won’t air the spot without proof.

    • BriceY says :

      Is that the same message you would tell your children? “Story telling doesn’t equal dishonesty.”

      • caleb says :

        It appears you’ve used my own logic against me. Well played, Professor Yocum. When I do see my children (every other weekend if I’m not busy), I usually don’t have time for morality lessons, but nevertheless, I will answer: Above just about everything, I tell my kids to focus on truth. There is no peace without it, no matter how much money you may acquire.

        But I also tell them they need to learn how to “sell” things to each other and the family. Example: if my daughter wants to play a game that her brothers don’t, she has to find a way to make it appeal to them versus telling them they’re the worst brothers ever.

        “Telling the story” in marketing is the equivalent. But with many companies, there is a thin line between telling the story and fabricating a story. I’m all for telling an emotional story; but making false claims (This starfruit juice cures everything!) is completely wrong.

  15. Juan Alvarez says :

    Dishonest marketing and advertising campaigns are wrong and unethical, but full disclosure as marketing and advertising would be a bad business move. Full disclosure is a must but in a fine print, speed read at the end of the commercial. During the main part of the advertising the positive aspects of the products should be pointed out. ” Come join us at our sub par, bed bug infested hotel next to the beach” poor advertisement slogan but it may very well be an honest full disclosure slogan. “Come join us, with beautiful ocean view rooms, walking distance from the beach, complimentary breakfast” also honest but not full disclosure. I see nothing wrong with a business using the second statement rather than the first.

    I think we expect full disclosure from advertisement and marketing campaigns so we don’t have to think and make a decision. We want the decision made for us by which company makes the best presentation. We need to understand that we can be gullible individuals and we need to use better judgement. If its too good to be true it probably is. How many; weight loss, hair growth, energy boost, miracle drug, get rich quick, infomercials come out continually? Theres a reason for that, because as a society we continue to believe in the easy way of doing things and think that they will work. Can we place all the blame on the business for making a strong presentation? Should the consumers take some blame as well for encouraging these types of advertisements? Because it seems that we continue to buy into them.

  16. Manpreet Grewal says :

    I don’t think that there is any truth in advertising. The companies should tell the truth but then how will they sell their products. The only motive of advertising is to increase sales and make profit. Most of the times what we see in a advertisement and the results we get are not the same. Advertisements Reviews are something to help the consumer or reader whether pain or unpaid.

    • Tracy Neufeld says :

      Your post reminded me of the hamburger pictures in fast food ads. Carl’s Jr. plasters large pictures of burgers on their windows to entice customers to eat there. When the actual hamburger arrives, it looks nothing like the picture. Here is a comparison of McDonald’s burgers: The sad part about this is I am so desensitized to the exaggerated pictures, I know my burger won’t look like the picture. While I hope it does look that great, in reality I have never received a product that matches the image. I know they are advertising with a misleading picture.

  17. anevarez007 says :

    I don’t believe that there is any truth in advertising. I feel as if it is highly over exaggerated and shown to be something it is not. The consumer thrives off of a pretty face and perfect details. I’m sure the majority of these products aren’t as good as they seem to be. Every time you drink that Corona you won’t find yourself on a beach. There aren’t models who really would eat a Carl’s Jr Burger. Many people who do drink liquor, don’t drink it responsibly and models are really airbrushed to look flawless. Restaurant always advertises a perfect and full dish, meanwhile your real dish is half empty. It is unethical for marketers to lie just to bring in a revenue.

  18. Emely Sanchez says :

    Companies have the ethical obligation to tell the truth on their products but sometimes that does not always occur because of greed. Companies do not always follow what is the right thing to do because they are trying to sell their product at every means even if they have to lie. Companies are not the only ones that lie but also people example a person selling a car knowing there are problems with the car and at the long run is more expensive for the new owner. We as customers do not try to fall for those schemes but at times is hard not to fall because it sounds good at first and then at the end is not a good deal after all. We as consumers need to be careful when we buy or see companies that are lying. In the past there has been companies that have been sewed for lying to the customers. I can relate this to work because my customers have bought software without including IT’s input but this is due because the vendor lied to them and said it was compatible to the county’s infrastructure when in reality their product is not. Is a buyer beware situation when dealing with companies or dealing with vendors.

  19. JJ Rea says :

    I do not have a problem with companies selling a dream or fake reality. It is the consumer’s responsibility to do their own research in regards to the products that they intend to buy. I do have a problem with companies that straight out lie. For example, I do not mind Budweiser telling me that I will get more girls while drinking their crappy beer but I do have a problem with cigarette companies telling me that their product will not kill me. Consumers know that advertisers are trying to make money. This is not new news. Advertisements are there to grab your attention and because of everything that happens in the world we have become desensitized to life and we need commercials that will stand out from the ordinary. If you are able to grab my attention, then I will take the next step of doing my own research and perhaps buy your product that will then put food on your family’s table. Without grabbing my attention through promoting the “dream” there is the possibility that I would never take step two of doing my own research.

    These advertisements are what bring money into the households of virtually every American citizen. We need to give advertisers the freedom to allow their products stand out. Humans are creatures of habit and without innovative ways of advertising we would all stick with what has worked for us in the past. Creative advertising allows for competition and the creation of new business to enter markets previously dominated by other companies.

  20. LDermon says :

    I believe truth has its place in advertising. There is a fine line between inspiring people and lying to them about the product. It is really up to the viewer to discern the facts and the “made up” part in an advertisement. I think advertisements are created to make the viewers dream. For example, when watching the commercials where the person drinks a Corona beer and is suddenly on a beach, the viewers know that it is not going to happen but it conveys a message: people that party on a beach and are cool drink Coronas.
    Advertisement and the fashion industry are similar because they project an unrealistic image of a product, an image that let the viewer dream and hope for something better.
    Overall, advertisement would not be appealing if they were all about truth and facts. Advertisement should tell a story more than state facts. But I think companies cross the line when they make up fake facts, therefore lie.

  21. Nathan McGuigan says :

    So because I am a bit late on this forum and am reading that the majority of people believe that truth in advertising is the only way I will play the devils advocate. Although no one enjoys to be duped by clever advertising is it unethical by the company? To go a step further if the company truly believes in the product their advertising and it just doesn’t work out for a customer were they advertising unethically or dishonestly? I believe that we all would like the companies that we patron to act in an ethical and trustworthy manner. However, if a company truly wants to have it’s legacy be that they falsely advertised, sold a million units, and then went out of business because of all the returns and complaints then so be it. To reiterate Caleb’s point, these types of advertising have a way of working themselves out.

    I will say that I am the worst person to return an item to a store. In fact I rarely do. When I make a purchase and it doesn’t work out I feel almost partially responsible for making a poor buying decision. Whether or not they falsely advertised to me or not I feel that I should have done more research in the product. All this to say, I believe a lot of companies fall under the George Costanza model of, It’s not a lie if you believe it.” Let’s be smarter consumers and filter out the differences between truth and all the frill.

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