What Are the Laws on False Advertising?

Amanda R. Bell

There are several laws on false advertising in most industrialized countries. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal for a company to make any false claim in any type of advertising, whether intentional or not. Any claims made in an advertisement must be based on fact, and, in some countries, each claim must be verified before the advertisement is approved for publication or airing. Some laws on false advertising are more subjective, and make it illegal for companies to intentionally or unintentionally mislead a customer, even if the content of the advertisement is not a direct lie.

Consumers who are dissatisfied about false advertising claims may file a complaint with the FTC.
Consumers who are dissatisfied about false advertising claims may file a complaint with the FTC.

One of the most common and widespread laws on false advertising is the rule against making a false claim. This law is upheld in most industrialized countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, among many others. While these laws on false advertising primarily refer to written or spoken claims in advertisements, they are also applied to the entire content of an ad, including photos, videos, or artwork. In most jurisdictions, a company is not allowed to make false claims on the quality, origin, or price of the product. In the United Kingdom, laws on false advertising go so far as to state that a company cannot make false claims on the perceived need a buyer may have for the product or service.

For any concrete or implied claim made in an advertisement, the governing jurisdiction typically requires proof in its laws on false advertising. In many countries, including the United States, most companies are only required to provide proof of claims if questioned after the advertisement has been released to the public in most cases. In Australia and other countries, each claim made in a potential advertisement must be proven before the ad is released. In this case, the government may be required to screen the advertisement, or screening may be handled by an outside entity.

Some laws on false advertising can be subjective in nature, specifically laws related to misleading content or claims. While the statement made in the advertisement may not be an outright lie, content that aims to make the consumer believe something that is not true, even if it is not blatantly obvious, is illegal in many countries. Whether something is misleading is typically determined based on what the average consumer would take away from an advertisement. For example, if a delivery company uses photos and videos of airplanes in its ad, yet it utilizes only ground transportation for delivery, this is considered misleading and is in violation of laws against false advertising in many countries.

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