Advertising: Deception at its Finest

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Jesse Scannapieco
Principals of Advertising
Professor Gopal
20 October 2012
Deception at its Finest
Getting in shape without setting foot in the gym? That may be one of the best things to tell a consumer who is concerned with his or her body image. In America where obesity is on the rise and being unhealthy is a common dilemma, individuals are likely to purchase a product that promises cardiovascular health, weight loss, and a stronger/more toned body. For the producer though, that may be one of the worst statements to ever see an advertisement; especially if that advertisement, or even worse, series of advertisements have no clinical studies to back up the claims the advertisement is making. This is exactly what happened to Skechers, with their Shape-Ups— costing Skechers 40 million dollars after the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) proved that the advertisements were deceptive. Some of the Shape-Ups advertisements included an endorsement from Dr. Steven Gautreau, a licensed chiropractor, who recommended the sneakers but claimed it was based on a clinical study that he conducted. Not only was the study found to not produce the positive results exposed, but also, soon after a discovery was made that Dr. Steven Gautreau is married to a Skechers marketing executive— obviously the advertisements did not disclose this information (Weisbaum 7). Deceptive advertising, like most types of advertising, has positive and negative affects on consumers and producers alike. In most cases, as long as an advertisement does not cross the ‘puffery’ boundary, making it dishonest, the advertisement is welcomed into the industry; while in other cases, where deception arises, problems do occur. An advertisement cannot simply be proven false or deceptive; instead there are five things a complainant must verify. The first is whether or not a false statement or fact has been made about the promoter's own or another company’s goods, services, or profitable activity. Secondly, the statement produced must either deceive or have the potential to deceive an extensive portion of its audience. Thirdly, the false claims must be likely to affect the purchasing decisions of the audience. The fourth allegation is that the advertising itself involves goods or services in interstate commerce, and lastly the deception has either caused or is prone to cause injury to the accuser (“False Advertising” 1). To no surprise, the most heavily weighted factor is the advertisement’s likelihood to harm a customer. The injury is typically attributed to money the consumer would lose through a purchase of a good or service, which logically would not have been made, had the advertisement not been misleading. False statements in advertisements are either those that are false on their face, or those that are subliminally false. Either way, the business that marketed their product misleadingly is going to end up in some kind of trouble. In 1911, one of the first attempts to create advertising industry standards was formed. This happened when an advertising trade journal called “Printer’s Ink” suggested false advertising be classified as a felony. Forty-four states in the nation enacted laws based on the suggestion made in “Printer’s Ink”, making false advertising a misdemeanor. Because of how much trouble it is to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ an advertiser’s fraudulence, these statutes are rarely used. Instead, states adopted the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act of 1964. This act names a dozen different items that are not allowed in the advertising commerce. The only remedy that is available under the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act is injunctive relief; this is a court order that reprimands the guilty party for its actions. An extremely low number of states have adopted this act, and that remedy is a likely reason as to why they have not (“False Advertising” 2). Other states throughout the country have different laws against false advertising. Most of the...
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