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There are a number of avenues to pursue to report false advertising, depending on the nature of the advertisement and where it runs. Numerous government agencies and offices accept complaints related to advertising, as do consumer advocacy organizations. It is also possible to file suit, in some cases, in which case an attorney can review the options and discuss whether a suit would be viable. Another resource can be professional organizations or boards.
Advertising may be considered false if it is untruthful or not backed by evidence. Unfair advertising can also be reported; businesses that feel a competitor is using advertising that is prejudicial in nature can file complaints. For example, a manufacturer of paper towels might claim that a television campaign unfairly smears its product in favor of a competitor.
One option to report false advertising is to speak with a representative of a government agency such as the Federal Trade Commission or Food and Drug Administration in the United States. If a government agency regulates advertising, it usually has the power to accept and process complaints. Likewise, a state attorney general's office can be a resource in the US. Some municipalities accept local advertising complaints as well.
Another option is a consumer safety or advocacy organization. Such organizations compile claims of false advertising and may submit them to regulators or use them in reports on various companies they monitor. If a consumer wants to report false advertising to such organizations, it is important to be aware that no direct regulatory action will result. It is possible that complaints in the long term could lead to a suit or similar action.
People can also report false advertising to professional organizations. Members of professional trades often belong to groups like the bar association for attorneys. These organizations take reports on the activities of their members and may sanction members who do not abide by the law, or their own internal standards. Ratings organizations, like charity rating groups and the Better Business Bureau, use complaints to grade the organizations they monitor and may accept false advertising complaints.
Another way to report false advertising through judicial proceedings in a courtroom. Attorneys can discuss the nature of an advertisement with a client and determine if a suit is possible, and what kinds of damages might be awarded. The attorney may recommend a suit to someone seeking a specific remedy, like a customer who wants compensation for a product bought as a result of a misleading advertising, or a company that lost business because of a competitor's unfair ad.
I've actually reported a case of false advertising to my state's attorney general's office. A private business college was claiming it had special connections with local employees, so graduates were virtually assured employment. I called several of the local businesses listed in the ad, and none of them had ever heard of the college. There were no special connections, and most of the jobs available did not require any advanced education. It was clearly a case of false advertising.
It took a few years, but the attorney general's office investigated my complaint and agreed with me. The school was ordered to revise their advertising or face prosecution for deceptive business practices.
There's a difference between false and deceptive advertising. Sometimes the raw facts in an ad can be accurate, but they are presented out of context. This would be closer to deceptive advertising than false advertising, the way I see it. An ad might say a product contains Vitamin C, for instance. What the ad doesn't say is that it contains enough of that vitamin to be therapeutic. It's not false per se, but it is deceptive.
I've seen this happen with beverage ads. A drink may contain "real juice", but it doesn't specifically say it's the juice of the fruit being featured. It may also contain a very small percentage of real fruit juice. It would be hard to report this as false advertising, but if the manufacturer claims the beverage is 100% natural or is a healthy alternative to soda, then the advertising claims become actionable.
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