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Tell The Truth

What you claim about your product could get you in a heap of trouble.

This story appears in the October 1998 issue of

We've all seen ads that seem too good to be true, promoting products with descriptions like "the device that kills bugs every time." Fill in the coupon, send in your check and you'll receive two blocks of wood with the following instructions: "Place bug between blocks and press firmly." No wonder advertising was once described by Stephen Butler Leacock as "the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it."

As a consumer, false or deceptive advertising can annoy, infuriate, victimize and, in tragic cases, even ruin your life. As an advertiser standing accused of wrongdoing, you may have to answer not only to those consumers, but to your competitors and to government authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or state attorneys general. If you're found guilty, you may be ordered to repay consumers, pull the ads in question, run a corrective campaign and, in some cases, pay exorbitant damages to your competitors. You could even be subject to criminal penalties.

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