The true cost of false advertising

“You’ll feel better on Swisse.” This is the slogan that Swisse, a Melbourne health and wellness company, was forced to defend against false advertising claims. In March 2012, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) forced Swisse to cease using the slogan as it could not be proven that people did actually feel better when using the products. Two months later, however, the ruling was overturned, and people were allowed to be told they would, in fact, feel better on Swisse once more. A year after that, the complaint was raised once again, and Swisse users everywhere were unsure of how to feel.

What was the issue?

When the ruling was first issued that Swisse was no longer allowed to use its questionable slogan, the company argued that it was not given enough time to defend itself against false advertising. Originally Swisse not only had to cease using the slogan but they also had to pull any current advertising that used it. The TGA argued that the slogan could not be clinically proven and Swisse said they weren’t given procedural fairness.

The TGA was tipped off by an anonymous user who did not feel at all better on Swisse. They decided that the slogan may be shockingly inaccurate and not apply to every single Swisse user. Baffling, right? Every Red Bull drinker has wings, don’t they? Anyway, the TGA felt this was valid, possibly due to the medicinal nature of the product and the Federal Court agreed.

The Federal Court, flipped on this decision after a little pressure from Swisse. Not only could Swisse continue using their slogan, but the TGA had to pay all of the legal costs. The interesting part about this is the decision was reversed due to a flawed judicial process, not because the product actually did what it claimed.
By the time the complaint was raised again in 2013, Swisse had stopped using the slogan anyway. This turned out to be a surprisingly good idea as the second round of review once again ruled that the slogan was inaccurate and no longer to be used.

What is the problem?

It has been proven that people can feel better as a result of a placebo. So, if it works, even if it isn’t doing anything, no problems right? That may be a debate for another blog. The issue here is false advertising, and how far can slogans go before they are straight out lies.

The ACCC states “Businesses are not allowed to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression,” so according to this, Swisse, and many other companies, are in the wrong. We can throw around counter-arguments about grey areas and common sense, but there are very real repercussions for businesses, so you need to be careful. Red Bull lost a lawsuit in 2014 as it didn’t actually give you wings. You can argue how absurd it is to think that Red Bull would sprout a pair of Cupid style wings from your back, but what about more realistic claims? In 2014, L-Oreal cosmetics got in big trouble for claiming that one of its products was “clinically proven” when it wasn’t. Now that is a statement infinitely more believable than a new shiny pair of wings.

How can you avoid false advertising?

Considering the ACCC has actual laws in place to protect consumers from being misled, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep yourself out of trouble. According to everything written above, however, it is, so here are some handy steps to avoid false advertising.

  1. Contact Cuckoo for all of your advertising needs, we’ll protect you from the scary business world outside.
  2. Seems obvious but, don’t make statements that are incorrect.
  3. Accurately portray the quality of your product or service. You wouldn’t be selling it if you thought it was crap (we hope) so you don’t need to inflate its features
  4. Never over extend yourself and promise to do things that you don’t have the capacity to do
  5. Don’t try to tell people they need something that they don’t. If you are doing this, then you are selling to the wrong people, and you need some targeted marketing strategies to help you find your audience.

Keep in mind that you are breaking the law with misleading information, whether you meant to do it or not, so being aware of these things is crucial to avoid getting sued. Nobody likes getting sued.

How will you ever leave the house again in this scary, scary world?

Seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it? It’s not. You can still find smart and creative ways to advertise your products without having to fear every word you put out into the world. A good creative agency will use the strengths and benefits of your services to create a quality campaign that suits your businesses personality while grabbing people’s attention.

So, all you need is a good creative agency! Give us a call today.