Entries in false advertising (1)

Friday
Aug062010

Tricky Advertising and Marketing

*Do not misconstrue any of the following as legal advice.  Always consult with a licensed attorney when you have specific questions regarding statements made in your business advertising.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, and non-profit public interest group, has brought a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, claiming that the company's vitaminwater products make unwarranted health claims.  (Read about the details here.)

The really interesting part is that Coca-Cola's defense is this: "no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage."  Uh, really, Coca-Cola?  I don't know if it's the word "vitamin" or the word "water" that is more misleading, but nevertheless, there you have it.  Coca-Cola doesn't even try to deny the claims that the beverage is unhealthy (in truth, the drink has 33 grams of sugar in it.)

So the question becomes: where you should you, a small business owner, draw the line in your marketing?

While you may never be as large as Coca-Cola, small business owners get themselves in hot water every day by making false or misleading claims in their advertising.  There can be some stiff consequences, not the least of which is some possible nasty publicity. 

Often forgotten is something as simple as coupons, commonly used by businesses large and small.  If you take a look at a large corporation coupons, you'll notice something common among every one of them -- fine print.  That's the lawyers keeping the corporations out of a hot mess.  So why wouldn't you, a small business owner, take the same precautions?  No, it's not silly.  The reason that you see statements such as "Cannot be used in combination with any other offer" and "One per customer" and "Expires XX/ XX/ XXXX" and "Only applies to basic service, not super-duper deluxe service" is because someone has tried to pull any and all of these shenanigans before.  The basic rule is that if a restriction is not stated clearly and simply on your coupon, then you will need to comply with any customer requests in regards to the coupon.

The same goes with your advertising.  If you are offering a special promotion, you can very simply state on all print advertising "Rules and restrictions can be found on our website at www.ourwebsite.com."  Then, add a page to your site with borderplate regulations, with specifications made to fit your promotion.  It's an extra step that you should take, because as soon as you don't, you'll get burned.

The thing is, people don't like to be tricked.  As soon as you appear deceitful, people will get ticked.  In Coca-Cola's situation, understandably, some people believed that they were being healthy by partaking in vitaminwater.  (It's not a huge stretch, based on the product name, even though I personally think people need to read labels!)

Be as honest as you can when it comes to your marketing.  This can be difficult because, after all, most advertising could be labeled as "slick" and "tricky".  But at the end of the day, if you're honest with your clients and customers, they'll thank you for it, and you'll be more likely to earn their repeat business.