Advertisements and packaging increase consumer awareness of a product and provide information so that customers can make educated choices. Oftentimes, however, marketing strategies are focused more on raising sales than providing accurate product information
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles numerous cases each year as part of its goal to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive practices. Last year, the FTC ruled that advertisements and packaging of various lines of clothing from a number of companies — including Sears, Amazon.com, and Macy’s — were misleading and unsubstantiated. In these cases, the companies marketed the products as environmentally friendly bamboo, when in fact the manufacturing process involved toxic chemicals.
This incident is one of a slew of recent confrontations companies have had with a number of groups. Regulators, customers and advocacy groups have especially targeted “all-natural” labelled foods. The growth in such labeling is not surprising given the spike in demand for so-called “natural” products in recent years. Other products under scrutiny have ranged from shoes to cars. Based on recent FTC and media reports, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the most misleading product claims.
Due to the high volume of litigations in recent years, the word “natural” is slowly disappearing from labels, despite the lucrative sales growths of products with this label. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is one consumer advocacy group that is at the forefront of lawsuits related to food, beverages and health.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Stephen Gardner, Litigation Director at CSPI, explained that food and health-related litigation probably get more media attention because “Americans are increasingly interested in eating [healthy foods].” The problem is that the terms used to identify healthy foods are often inconsistent or vague. Citric acid, for example, can be either natural or artificially produced, which means seeing it listed as an ingredient does not tell a consumer very much, Gardner explained.
Kashi, Emergen-C, and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats all claimed to be healthier than they actually were. Kashi, which claims to be all all-natural, actually contains artificial ingredients. Emergen-C vitamin C supplement’s effectiveness at preventing or curing the common cold is controversial. Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats do not improve children’s attention span.
To make matters worse, information found on packaging is often unreliable. These strategies are anti-competitive, Gardner argued. “If people don’t want to buy food with high-fructose corn syrup, they shouldn’t be tricked into buying it.” Additionally, if you are a victim of deceptive practices, “You’re not getting what you paid for, and that’s a failure of the marketplace,” Gardner said.
24/7 Wall St. has identified the major government actions and private lawsuits directed at companies on the basis of deceptive practices or false advertising. In order to be considered, a product had to be involved in some major settlement since the start of last year. We excluded incidents that were related to services rather than specific products, such as cases of predatory lending.
These are nine of the most misleading product claims.