10 Biggest Lies Advertisers Told You

These Whoppers Sucked in the General Public, Big Time.

Skechers Shape-Ups
Skechers Shape-Ups. Getty Images

Advertising has to meet certain ethical standards. It is not allowed to blatantly mislead, or tell an outright lie. And most of the time, that system works well. It is self-governing when it has to be, and at other times, institutions like the FTC, or the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority keep things in check.

However, lies slip through the cracks. Sometimes, the blame can be put squarely on the shoulders of the client, who told the ad agency information that was untrue.

On other occasions, it can be poor communication, or just outright deception. Here are 10 such examples, in no particular order, of those times advertising tried to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

1. Apple iPhone 3G —​ Twice as Fast, Half the Price

In 2008, Apple released a brand new version of its flagship iPhone, and made two claims in six words that made the entire nation sit up and take notice. Yes, the new iPhone 3G was double the speed of its predecessor, and cast half as much. Incredible! And…not true. Not even close.

Apple customers quickly reported dropped calls, slow speeds, and a host of other issues. That made then “twice as fast” claim bogus. Then there was the price. The initial $399 fee was dropped to $199, BUT, there was a catch; an expensive, 2-year contract catch. Apple’s lawyers were quick to point out that you’d have to be a fool to believe the ads verbatim. Apple never made those claims again.

 

2: Enforma “Exercise in a Bottle.” —​ Lose Weight Without Diet or Exercise

Anyone who tells you that you can lose weight without adjusting your calorie intake and exercise regime is flat-out lying. So in the 1990s, when Enforma brought in baseball player Steve Garvey to promote “fat trapper” diet supplements that absorb the fat, people naturally refused to believe it, right?

Wrong.

We always want an easy way out. If a celebrity tells us there’s a shortcut to weight loss, well, it must be true! They wouldn’t lie. It was all bogus, and the FTC took Steve Garvey to court. However, they lost the case as the appeals court ruled that he was not at fault for citing claims he was told were genuine. But the case made way for new regulations making it illegal for celebrities to make false statements in advertising.

3: Hoover Vacuums —​ Buy a Vacuum, Get Two Free Flights to the USA

They do say that if something looks too good to be true, it is. But people reading the small print on the Hoover offer, back in 1992, couldn’t find the catch. Was this a $1,500 vacuum cleaner? Was this a gold-plated sucker? No, the deal was unbelievable but true — spend £100 on a vacuum cleaner, and you get two free flights from the UK to anywhere in America. Of course, the general public realized this was a steal, and Hoover’s sold out in record time.

The company realized it had done some very bad math, and so it decided to pull an even worse stunt to follow the already awful promotion. It would send consumers on a wild goose chase, filling out form after form, until they eventually gave up.

The charade was so bad, the British parliament stepped in, and the stunt cost Hoover over £48 million ($60 million).

4: Nutella Spread —​ Healthy and Part of a Balanced Diet

If you’ve ever tried Nutella spread, you’ll notice something as soon as it hits your tongue; it’s incredibly sweet. How could this delicious chocolaty spread be a healthy part of anyone’s diet? Well, it couldn’t. At least, that’s what the $3 million settlement decided.

The problem with the advertising is that it shows a busy mom choosing Nutella as the perfect breakfast snack (when served with multi-grain toast or whole wheat waffles). Trouble is, the only healthy part of the breakfast is the “not Nutella” ingredient. Nutella’s main ingredient is sugar, followed by palm oil, and then hazelnuts and cocoa. The ad may as well have said, “I like to give my kid a piece of toast and a Snickers bar for breakfast.”

5: Skechers Shape-Ups —​ Get in Shape By Just Walking Around

Skechers pulled out the big guns for this one. They brought in social media superstar Kim Kardashian to front the campaign. They produced a multi-million dollar ad that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. They also pulled in big athletic names like Karl Malone, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana. The message was clear — forget the gym, just walk around in a pair of Skechers Shape-Ups and you’ll soon be in great shape.

The claim was complete hogwash. And the ads were full of huge lies to support this flat-out-wrong claim. Kim Kardashian did not get into the shape she was in by wearing Shape-Ups. You had to do way more than “just tie your shoes.” And the medical studies cited were cherry-picked to support the false narrative. After a while, wearers of the shoes realized they had been taken for a ride. A $40 million settlement was announced, and people who bought the shoes were entitled to a refund.

6: POM Wonderful —​ Cheat Death

Yes. Cheat death. That was the headline the ad agency and the client thought was going to sell a lot of the pomegranate drink. And why not? After all, who wouldn’t want to live forever by drinking a few bottles of juice?

Obviously, the ad leapt over the usual “exaggerating the benefit” boundaries, and went straight for a complete and utter lie. POM Wonderful was not going to prevent anyone from cheating death. However, the lie was not considered to be the issue. Rather, although it was obviously not true, it would make people think the drink had a lot of health benefits, and that was considered deceptive by the ASA. The ad was pulled.

7: Classmates.com —​ Your Classmates Are Looking for You

Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are hugely popular because they allow people to connect from all over the world. Classmates.com offered the same kind of “reach out and touch them” service…but for a price.

The advertising told you that someone, a former classmate, was looking for you. But to find out who that classmate was, you’d have to sign up for the gold membership. Of course, after signing up for gold and entering credit card details, it became quickly apparent that no one was looking for you at all. It was a complete fabrication used to sell monthly memberships. Classmates.com had to fork over almost $10 million in a settlement.

8: Extenze Male Enhancement —​ Take Supplements, Increase Your Size

Size matters. And the claims that Extenze, and its spokesperson Jimmy Johnson (pun obviously intended) made did not fall on deaf ears. The ads stated that Extenze supplements were “scientifically proven to increase the size of a certain part of the male body.”

The FTC decided to step in, because the language was not claiming “may” or “might.” No, this stuff was scientifically going to work, and it didn’t. And after a lot of time in court, Extenze had to pay out $6 million in a false advertising class action lawsuit.

9: Vitamin Water —​ Drink This, It’s Good for You

We all link vitamins to health. And why wouldn’t we? Vitamins, whether taken as supplements or a part of a food or drink, they are essential for life. By that logic, a drink like Vitamin Water must be great for you. It’s literally the combination of two of life’s vital ingredients — water, and vitamins. Add to that claims that it would “boost your immune system” and “help fight free radicals” and you really have one seriously healthy drink. But as it turns out, it’s just a fancy name. It’s another sweet drink, with a typical bottle containing 120 calories and 32 grams of sugar.

Coca-Cola, the makers of Vitamin Water, found it a little odd that people thought Vitamin Water was healthy. “No consumer could be reasonably misled into thinking that Vitamin Water is a healthy beverage,” Coca-Cola’s lawyers stated. Soon after that, they settled a $9 million lawsuit.

10: Wrigley’s Gum —​ Chewing This Gum Kills Germs

Bad breath is nothing to be proud of. Finding out that simply chewing a piece of gum would eliminate it was music to consumers’ ears back in 2009. But there was one small problem. The gum didn’t kill germs at all.

The gum, called Eclipse, was touted as a product that “kills the germs that cause bad breath.” It even had a name for the ingredient — MBE. But the National Advertising Division did tests on this magic ingredient, and could not replicate this germ-killing behavior. Wrigley’s had to take the claims off the packaging, and paid up $6 million in the settlement.