Advertising Abuses & Regulation

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  • 0:01 Advertising
  • 1:19 Ambiguity
  • 3:15 Hide Facts
  • 4:21 Controversial Advertising
  • 5:26 Regulation of Advertising
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Lombardo
Companies do not always act ethically when trying to persuade consumers to purchase their products. In this lesson, we will discuss the various ways in which advertising can be abused and take a look at controversial advertising and regulation of advertising.


If I asked you to keep a diary regarding every single advertisement you came in contact with for 24 hours, the end result might astonish you. Ads permeate your life from billboards, television, radio, magazines, Internet, emails, and even your cell phone. The important role advertising plays in our economy reflects how important you as a customer are to businesses.

Advertising is the act of getting consumers' attention through media, such as the Internet, direct mail, television, radio, and print. In this lesson, we will discuss the various ways in which advertising can be abused, including controversial advertising and regulation of advertising.

Unfortunately, not all businesses play fair and advertise their products ethically. Since companies face difficulty in acquiring consumers' interest in such a competitive landscape, many have resulted in using deceptive advertising techniques to get attention. This type of advertising is also known as false advertising and uses misleading, confusing, or blatant lies to persuade the public. Let's take a look at some actual examples of companies using different deceptive advertising techniques to understand the type of advertising abuses that occur in the business world.


Advertisers tend to use ambiguity or inexact, obscure, or vague wording to try and convince consumers to purchase their product. Businesses like to be vague in their wording in the hopes that consumers will come to their own favorable thoughts about their product. Ambiguous terminology is an unethical and immoral way to sell products to the public.

For example, Jessie Pastries advertised their product line called Light Fluffy Desserts, inferring from the name and ads that the product was reduced calories. When the FTC investigated this claim, Jessie Pastries backed away from the low calorie proposition and said the product was called Light Fluffy Desserts due to the lightness or consistency of the product.

Another example of ambiguous wording is called weasel words, which is when companies select words that help make their claim seem legitimate. The best example of a weasel word is the term 'help'. Consumers will assume that if a product will help them lose weight or cure their acne, it must work well. In fact, advertisers use the word 'help' to mean 'assist' but not that it is proven to work.

For example, the window-cleaning product Erase claims that their product leaves windows virtually spotless. The weasel word is 'virtually', which means 'nearly', so in actuality your windows are not spotless.

The use of puffery, or exaggerated claims, is the last ambiguous abuse of advertising that businesses employ. Examples of puffery are when advertisers use the words 'best, most, greatest' to communicate to consumers some sort of fact, even when there is no proof that the products have those traits. For example, the company Hot Beans often claims they have the best coffee, but according to whom or what study?

Hide Facts

Another way businesses use advertising unethically is by hiding facts from the public. In this technique, companies conceal information that would be considered uncomplimentary. This is a manipulation of the truth and can also result in consumer harm.

How about a relatable example, you have decided to start a diet and see an ad for Pretend Spread that touts that it has half the calories of butter. You purchase the product to help you lose weight and soon discover that the company did not tell you that their spread, although lower in calories is actually higher in fat, which doesn't help your diet.

Another way companies hide facts is portraying that they are different and better than their competition, even though that is not true. For example, a gas and oil company, Power Liquid, promoted that their gasoline contained a special ingredient that made their gas better. The ingredient was called EnergizeG, which by the way, was an ingredient contained in all of their competitors' gas as well.

Controversial Advertising

Although the main abuses of advertising fall under deception, companies also use controversial advertising, also known as shock advertising, to gain the attention of their consumers. This type of advertising uses shocking, inappropriate, and sometimes unethical promotion techniques. Controversial ads are used to cut through the clutter of mass advertising and can use scare tactics to get a message across. Companies have to be very careful about selecting a controversial ad to represent their products because public backlash could end up hurting their business.

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