False Advertising and Ethics

False advertising is a big issue when it comes to ‘ethics’, and most of us have been victims of it. Most of the time companies market their services or products in a truthful manner by prioritizing consumers over profits but sometimes they prioritize profits and push false claims or exaggerated claims to sell their service/product.

It is illegal to do false advertising according to the Federal Trade Comission and it’s also unethical; although not all unethical advertising is illegal. Ethical advertising is regulated by societal norms and moral principles of advertisers. Unethical advertising has a negative effect on moral principles of society in terms of its effect and intent. The law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission originates from the principle that customers have the legal right to know exactly what it is that they are buying.

It’s not just about false advertising, but ethical advertising as well. Advertisers have the moral responsibility to help people understand their choices, with what is true and good and what is false and in conflict with their needs and well-being. For example cigarets can be advertised to the public as cool, and appealing. Even though now days it’s a lot less common to see a cigarette advertisement they can still be found through some mediums or being used to sponsor sporting events such as ‘Marlboro’ in the Ferrari formula 1 cars.

Below are some examples of unethical advertising from companies advertising their products in a deceptive way:

Activia Yogurt 

Dannon’s Activia brand yogurt tricked consumers into buying its product for its supposed nutritional benefits. In reality the

Dannon's Activia Yogurt
Dannon’s Activia Yogurt

yogurt was pretty much the same as any other yogurt brand. It was advertised with claims like “clinically” and “scientifically” proven nutritional benefits.

After a class action settlement Dannon was forced to pay up to $45 million in damages to the consumers that filed the lawsuit.


ABC News


Eclipse gum:

Eclipse gum by Wrigley claimed that it had a new ingredient ‘cardamon’, a magnolia bark extract had germ killing properties. The ad said the new ingredient killed germs that cause bad breath in comparison to other gums that just mask bad breath. Wrigley was sued by consumers for misleading advertising claims and had to change the way it markets its gum and paid $7 million to reimburse consumers and the cost of the settlement.



Businessweek reports



George Boykin. (ca.). Ethics and Deceptive Advertising. Available: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/ethics-deceptive-advertising-58233.html. Last accessed 10th March 2015.

Karlee Weinmann, Khim Bhasin. (2011). 14 False Advertising Scandals That Cost Brands Millions. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/false-advertising-scandals-2011-9?op=1&IR=T. Last accessed 10th March 2015.

Patrick Burgoyne. (2007). God and the Ethics of Advertising. Available: http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2007/january/god-and-the-ethics-of-advertising. Last accessed 10th March 2015.


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