5 Outrageous Lies Companies Are Legally Allowed to Tell You
If you tell people that advertisers lie, they'll roll their eyes and say, "DUH! That's what advertising is, you naive buffoon!" But then those same people will walk out the door and buy a phone based on a "coverage map" they just saw in an ad.
That's because advertisers use our cool cynicism against us -- we think we're being savvy by assuming that all ads exaggerate, but we still assume that's as far as it can go -- exaggeration. It's not like these people can just go out and lie right to our faces, right?
They sure can! In fact ...
Companies Have Gone to Court for the Right to Lie
The big assumption we all make is that while every ad contains some bullshit, the basic facts have to be true. Like, what the product looks like and the gist of what it does. After all, there is little room to lie when your essential statement is, say, "It's a phone. You can call with it and take photos." But multiple companies have made the argument -- in court -- that not only do their ads not have to be factual, but only an idiot would think they were.
For example, when Coca-Cola was marketing their line of Vitaminwater by promising the stuff would "boost your immune system" and "help fight free radicals," someone pointed out that the stuff was effectively sugar water. Coke responded that they were completely shocked that anyone thought their drink was healthy, or in their words: "No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking that Vitaminwater is a healthy beverage."
In their defense, it never occurred to them that any of their customers could read.
But even if you can make that argument with a product that, to be fair, is basically Kool-Aid, how can you say the same when marketing a product specifically touting never-before-seen capabilities? Like, say, a fancy new phone where your entire campaign is based on all of the things it can do that your old phone can't? You know, like when Apple was advertising their iPhone 3G as, "Twice as fast. Half the price."
Welp, no misreading that.
That seems like a pretty straightforward statement to us, and the consumer has nothing else to go on. But again, when someone had the audacity to point out that literally each and every one of those words was a lie, Apple's legal defense was the same as Coke's: "No reasonable person in the plaintiff's position could have reasonably relied on or misunderstood Apple's statements as claims of fact." They flat out stated you were a dumbass for buying into their wacky claims, which were obviously fictional and therefore couldn't be lies.
Then in 2012, Nokia took a page out of video game developers' handbook and released a trailer (for their newest Lumia phone) that turned out to be way better than the product itself. The ad featured Lumia's much-touted "Optical Image Stabilization" feature, which they showcased by showing a cute woman flirting with you during a bike ride. If you didn't have OIS, she'd just be a blurry mess!
The ad is actually pretty incredible -- the difference between the two kinds of footage are like night and day. It's a level of image stabilization you'd normally need a big-ass camera crew to achieve, right there on your phone! And then the Internet found out that the reason the footage looks like it was filmed with a big clunky movie camera is because that's exactly what they did:
"Eh, they won't notice. The Internet never notices anything that small and seemingly insignificant."
The company's response was a half-hearted blog post apology that explained the video was obviously supposed to be a simulation of what was possible, not actual footage of the phone's OIS capability. You know, despite the fact that it fucking says "OIS ON" right there in the footage and showing the image quality is the only reason for the ad to exist. As of the writing of this article, all they've done to fix the ad is a YouTube popup that offhandedly mentions the "simulation" thing:
And since most people have annotations turned off, they'll never see it.
Still, at least they did something. That half-hearted effort is better than the standard "you're just an idiot for believing anything we say."
Telecoms Use an Entirely Lie-based Ad Strategy
Hey, know those coverage maps cellphone companies used to bombard us with a couple of years ago? The ones that make the country look like it had the worst case of small pox in history?
Verizon looks like it could use an ointment for its Florida.
In reality, those coverage maps were just a load of unhelpful horseshit. The coverage maps are just ways to avoid giving you any actual numbers (and even when a cell phone ad features actual statistics, chances are they're pulled from a study that the company itself commissioned). But no matter how they paint the country, it doesn't count as lying. It doesn't count as anything.
And it works, because no matter how integral technology is to our lives, most of us have no idea how it works. Sure, most everyone knows that cellphones send signals to towers, Internet access works by connecting us to servers, and we get HBO by plugging our TV into a box powered by tiny elves with the face of a grimacing Ian McShane. But do you know how many cell towers you have in your area, or who they belong to? When your phone drops a call, do you ever know why? Or just assume that it was due to the landscape, or sun spots, or the other caller's phone?
Damn you, The sun!
Or, most likely of all, have you just accepted that cellphones get shitty reception and there's nothing you can do about it?
Because the truth is, no matter who you pick, the service is going to be patchy, due to a whole bunch of limitations with capacity and other bullshit that is impossible to predict (that link is to a guide from the FCC that says the only way to find out if you actually have coverage where you are is to fucking find a neighbor with the same service and ask them if it works). Because even if a carrier doesn't have enough towers where you are, they're still happy to color that part of the map red. Why not?
"Our tower is barely shooting off any signal lightning today. Better save my calls for later."
Food Serving Sizes Are Random and Meaningless
To be fair, lots of marketing tricks are entirely possible to avoid if you know your shit. When you're buying a car, it's good to ignore the salesperson and go right for the manual. When buying a new laptop, you should always pour beer and Cheetos dust all over it just to make sure it can survive your daily life. And when you're in the grocery store, you should go right to the ingredients and nutrition label to see what that Hot Pocket is really made of.
Except that the ingredient lists lie, too. No matter what the sugar, caffeine or sodium content of any given food appears to be, there's always one number that can completely change everything: the serving size. You'd assume that a serving size on, say, a small bottle of soda is that goddamn bottle. And you'd be right -- occasionally. For instance, one serving of Classic Coca-Cola looks like this:
Meanwhile, this Diet Coke of the exact same size ...
... is presented as 2.5 servings. Wait, what the hell?
Of course, tinkering with the serving size allows the company to sneakily divide the amounts of each and every ingredient in that bottle by 2.5. All the information is still right there in the ingredients list ... but to decrypt it, you'll need to both spot the serving size trick and be reasonably adept at Surprise Grocery Store Math. And you'll need to be on the lookout for every single product you buy, too. Because this isn't just a soda thing.
Here's a soup-in-a-cup that boasts only 90 calories per cup, which doesn't sound half bad ... until you notice that the package is actually called a container and contains two cups.
They'd change the name, but "Death Soup" didn't go over well with the fears-death demographic.
Even the simplest grocery items are not safe from marketing crapjugglery: Each and every package of, say, Top Ramen noodles actually contains two servings.
Yes, even the goddamn shrimp flavor.
Nothing like finding out you've been eating quadruple meals all along, college students! But that just brings us to ...
Products Are Still Claiming Bullshit Health Benefits
No, a cup of hot tea won't reduce stress or help you lose weight. Bee pollen has no known health benefits. Acai berries have no magical powers above and beyond those of normal berries.
But there might not be any food category more subject to unwarranted bullshit claims than chewing gum. Will it whiten your teeth? Sure, kinda! Give you energy? Goddamn right it can! Maybe! Still, there are limits to what chewing gum can be presented as, right? It's just inedible candy, after all -- the most pointless of human foods. It's not like anyone has claimed chewing gum is an effective antibacterial medicine and slapped an absurd price tag on it.
Don't tell Jenny McCarthy. She'll flip out.
Ah, come on! Of course they have!
In 2008, chewing gum giant Wrigley decided to pull out all the stops and see what the public would really pay for their product. They came up with Eclipse Gum, a chewing gum that would not just mask your bad breath, but actually murder it. Initially priced at around $10, Eclipse was said to contain a natural ingredient that kills the germs that cause bad breath. Later, they introduced a new, improved version that also boasted antiseptic qualities and actually worked as an anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis drug.
"Sir, your prescription is ready."
The competitors soon kicked up a fuss and it was revealed that the ridiculously overpriced Eclipse Gum didn't actually do anything. Even though Wrigley denied that they had ever lied (and even though it must have been pretty hard to feel sympathy for people who are willing to drop $10 on a pack of gum), the court ruled against the company and Wrigley was forced to compensate everyone who was willing to admit they'd bought a pack.
Of course, Wrigley took absolutely nothing of this to heart. They just added a small disclaimer here ("We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented") and a warning there and went right back to selling Eclipse. Today, Eclipse Gum can knock you back nearly $30 on Amazon -- and the only change to the product's claims is that now they say it's also a good substitute for snacks.
You're not fooling anyone. We know there's a ham sandwich behind that bubble.
Junk Food Will Forever Claim to Be a Healthy Alternative to Something
There's an old saying in advertising that any food, no matter how unhealthy, can be promoted as low in one thing or high in another. For instance, cotton candy is very low in nicotine, and Krispy Kreme donuts, which are rings of fat that are fried and then coated in sugar, are low in trans fat:
No, seriously, think. Think about what you're reading versus what you're about to buy.
But even the biggest fans of Coca-Cola probably don't think of it as a health drink -- no one's chugging Coke before they head to the gym. This isn't a Vitaminwater situation. Coke is popular because we, as consumers, have made the decision to willingly purchase and drink candied fart water as a guilty pleasure. And that's totally fine.
Fine for everyone, that is, except Coke. Coca-Cola has long harbored a desire to be perceived as healthy. To combat the fact that their main product is essentially acidic liquid sugar, they employ all sorts of shenanigans to convey a healthy image. From rampant sports advertising to Coke Workout Calculators ("Select your favorite Coca-Cola drink to generate activity suggestions for a healthy, balanced lifestyle!"), the company is constantly blasting the market with visions of Coke as a healthy drink, despite all evidence to the contrary. But the most glaring example of their blatant abuse of the concept of "healthiness" was the Motherhood & Myth-Busting advertisement they ran in Australia.
The ad was formatted like a mythbusting infographic, explaining at length how this poop-colored caffeine water was not only "kiddy safe," but somehow wouldn't contribute to obesity, tooth decay, or health problems in any way. To give this blatant fuckery the shiny veneer of authority, they decided to hire Kerry Armstrong (a popular Australian actress) to endorse their myth busting.
Because who's more trustworthy than someone who makes a living pretending to be other people?
This particular ad was so blatant that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced Coca Cola to immediately pull the plug on the campaign. What's more, the Aussie officials displayed a sense of humor only living in the Spider Kingdom will give you: They forced Coke to embark on a very different kind of ad campaign called "Setting the Record Straight," essentially making the company eat their false claims along with a big bag of dicks. Well played, Australia. Well played.
J.F. Sargent is writing a comedy sci fi action horror novel that you can read for free! He also has a Twitter and a Blog and a Facebook.
For more ways you're getting screwed by the food industry, check out 6 Subtle Ways You're Getting Screwed at the Grocery Store and 5 Ways Stores Use Science to Trick You Into Buying Crap.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Cases of Mistaken Address That Are Too Crazy For Reality .
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Further Reading: Curious about what ELSE the food industry lies about? Read on and never trust your kobe beef again. Still starved for misinformation? Cracked has you covered. If you think your blueberry muffins have REAL berries, you're in for a cruel surprise. Now that you're suitably riled up, let Seanbaby show you just how retarded advertisers think we are.