10 Biggest Lies Advertisers Told You
Advertising has to meet certain ethical standards. An ad cannot blatantly mislead or tell an outright lie. Most of the time, that system works well. It is self-governing when it has to be, and at other times, institutions like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) keep things in check.
Here are 10 examples, in no particular order, of advertising that went too far in trying to deceive people.
Skechers Shape-Ups: Get in Shape by Walking Around
Skechers pulled out the big guns for this one. They brought in social media superstar Kim Kardashian to front the campaign and produced a multi-million dollar ad that aired during Super Bowl 2011. They also featured big athletic names like Karl Malone, Wayne Gretzky, and Joe Montana. The message was clear—forget the gym, just walk around in a pair of Skechers Shape-Ups, and you’ll soon be in great shape.
The ads were full of false statements to support this flat-out-wrong claim. Kardashian did not get into the shape she was in by wearing Shape-Ups. You had to do way more than “just tie your shoes.” And the medical studies cited were cherry-picked to support the false narrative. Wearers of the shoes eventually sued. A $40 million settlement was announced, and people who bought the shoes were entitled to a refund.
Enforma “Exercise in a Bottle”: Lose Weight With No Diet
Anyone who says you can lose weight without adjusting your calorie intake and exercise regime is flat-out lying. In the 1990s, when Enforma brought in baseball player Steve Garvey to promote “fat trapper” diet supplements that absorb the fat, people believed it.
It was all bogus, and the FTC took Garvey to court. They lost the case as the appeals court ruled he was not at fault for citing claims he was told were genuine. The case made way for new regulations making it illegal for celebrities to make false statements in advertising. Enforma Natural Products, Inc., however, paid $10 million to settle FTC charges.
Dannon’s Probiotics: Relieve Irregularity—Avoid Colds, Flu
In ads featuring actress Jamie Lee Curtis, The Dannon Co. claimed Activia yogurt eaten daily was clinically proven to help regulate the digestive system in two weeks. Separately, it said its DanActive dairy drink, which also contained probiotics, helped people avoid colds and flu.
The FTC charged deceptive advertising and exaggerated claims because there was no substantiation or clinical evidence for these claims. And the company knew that three servings a day of Activia were required for any real benefit. Dannon agreed to pay $21 million to resolve the investigations.
ExtenZe Male Enhancement—Supplements Increase Size
"Go long with ExtenZe. I do," said spokesperson Jimmy Johnson, the former NFL coach and TV football analyst. The claims that ExtenZe and its athlete spokespeople made did not fall on deaf ears. The ads stated that all-natural ExtenZe supplements were “scientifically proven to increase the size of a certain part of the male body.”
The FTC decided to step in because the language was not claiming “may” or “might.” No, this stuff was scientifically going to work, and it didn’t. ExtenZe had to pay out $6 million in a false advertising class action lawsuit.
Apple iPhone 3G: Twice as Fast, Half the Price
In 2008, Apple released a new version of its flagship iPhone with two claims that made the entire nation sit up and take notice. The new iPhone 3G was double the speed of its predecessor, and cost half as much—or did it?
Apple customers quickly reported dropped calls, slow speeds, and a host of other issues. That made the “twice as fast” claim bogus. Then there was the price: the initial $399 fee was dropped to $199, but came with a catch; an expensive, 2-year contract catch. A class action lawsuit was filed and later dismissed when a judge found that it was the AT&T network that caused the speed issues. But Apple never made those claims again.
Nutella Spread: Healthy and Part of a Balanced Diet
If you’ve ever tried Nutella spread, you’ll notice something as soon as it hits your tongue; it’s incredibly sweet. How could this delicious chocolaty spread be a healthy part of anyone’s diet? It couldn’t. At least, that’s what the $3 million settlement decided.
The problem with the advertising is that it showed a busy mom choosing Nutella as the perfect breakfast snack (when served with multi-grain toast or whole wheat waffles). Trouble was, the only healthy part of the breakfast was the “not Nutella” ingredient. Nutella's main ingredient is sugar, followed by palm oil, and then hazelnuts and cocoa.
POM Wonderful: Cheat Death
That "cheat death" headline leaped over the usual “exaggerating the benefit” boundaries and went straight for a complete and utter lie. POM Wonderful was not going to prevent anyone from cheating death by drinking its pomegranate juice. However, the lie was not considered to be the issue. Although it was obviously not true, the ad would make people think the drink had a lot of health benefits, and that was considered deceptive by the ASA so the ad was pulled.
Classmates.com: Your Classmates Are Looking For You
Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are hugely popular because they allow people to connect from all over the world. Classmates.com offered the same kind of “reach out and touch them” service, but for a price.
The advertising said that someone, a former classmate, was looking for you. But to find out who that classmate was, you’d have to sign up for the gold membership. After signing up for gold and entering credit card details, it became quickly apparent that no one was looking for you at all. It was a complete fabrication used to sell monthly memberships. Classmates.com had to fork over almost $10 million in a settlement.
VitaminWater: Drink This, It’s Good for You
Vitamins, whether taken as supplements or part of a food or drink, are essential for life. By that logic, a drink like VitaminWater must be great for you. It’s literally the combination of two of life’s vital ingredients—water and vitamins. Add to that claims it would “boost your immune system” and “help fight free radicals” and you really have one seriously healthy drink. But as it turns out, it’s just a fancy name. It’s another sweet drink, with a typical bottle containing 120 calories and 32 grams of sugar.
The Coca-Cola Co., makers of VitaminWater, found it odd that people thought Vitamin Water was healthy. “No consumer could be reasonably misled into thinking that VitaminWater is a healthy beverage,” Coca-Cola’s lawyers stated. Soon after that, they settled a $9 million lawsuit.
Wrigley Eclipse: Chewing This Gum Kills Germs
Bad breath is nothing to be proud of. Finding out that simply chewing a piece of gum would eliminate it was music to consumers’ ears back in 2009. But there was one small problem. The gum didn't kill germs at all.
The gum, called Eclipse, was touted as a product that “kills the germs that cause bad breath.” It even had a name for the ingredient; magnolia bark extract (MBE). But the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus did tests on this magic ingredient, and could not replicate this germ-killing behavior. The Wrigley Co. had to take the claims off the packaging and paid $6 million in the settlement.