In Search of Truth in Advertising

by Chris Bjorklund

Many products make exaggerated claims to consumers. Photo: CC0 Creative Commons ©2019

I’ve been a label reader for all of my adult life, and I continue to be amazed at the exaggerated (and sometimes deceptive) claims that food manufacturers make. Take vanilla ice cream, for example. When carefully reading labels, you’ll discover that not all vanilla flavoring comes from vanilla beans. Some “vanilla” comes from wood pulp or a coal tar derivative and is listed as a “natural flavor.” A class action lawsuit has been filed against four brands for this practice.

It’s difficult to keep up with all the false, misleading and deceptive advertising on the internet and in print, radio, and TV ads. A nonprofit group called Truth in Advertising, Inc. or TINA was formed to help put a stop to deception because both consumers and honest businesses are being harmed. TINA issues Ad Alerts, which can simply be an advisory about viewing an ad with caution. TINA also gives consumers a chance to file complaints (which it investigates) and allows people to share their experiences and concerns.

The nonprofit’s website shows current examples of phone and radio ads for miracle cures, print ads for phony rebates and deceptive guarantees, TV ads for “free” products and services that have strings attached, and internet ads for hotel rooms that fail to disclose exorbitant “gotcha” facility fees. In another section, a Class Action Tracker highlights the allegations in false and deceptive advertising lawsuits from around the country. Major food and automobile manufacturers, clothing retailers, supermarkets, skin care products, and technology companies are among those named in the class action suits.

Two more things. You’ll want to spend some time on “Deceptive Marketing 101,” which is under the “Learn” tab on TINA’s website. It covers everything from the rules on celebrity endorsements to subliminal advertising and product placement. And don’t forget to check out TINA’s blog. The last entry I read warns about a company making outrageous promises about a fast way to get a flat tummy! I can see a lot of people falling for that.