Detailed Findings & Methodology
An advertisement claimed Philip Morris cigarettes were scientifically proven to be less irritating to the nose and throat, which were of course untrue. There is evidence that scientists and cigarette industry executives knew about risks of smoking as early as the 1940s.
The marketing tactics used by companies that have settled lawsuits related to misleading advertising vary. In many cases, improper labeling and unfounded claims in advertising and on packaging are the issue. In others, companies use words with ambiguous meanings, such as “green” or “all-natural.” Some companies hire individuals who appear as either impartial consumers or experts in the field.
The FTC’s quest to protect the consumer closely reflects topical issues in American culture. For example, many of the agency’s investigative and enforcement initiatives focus on products touting weight loss, those that profess to be healthful food options, and products offering relief from opiate addiction. There has also been an increasing focus on environmentally friendly products, as companies try to sell items they claim are “green” at a premium.
A recent area of FTC scrutiny has been the claim by some companies about the percentage of their products that is made in the United States, which many tout as a selling point for their products.
In recent years, some of the products that have been cited for misleading claims are among the most trusted brands in the marketplace. Volkswagen claimed its vehicles were environmentally safe, but in 2015, the German automaker was caught using software in its vehicles that deceived regulators about emission levels. The company was fined billions of dollars by regulators, and its public perception was damaged.
Other companies that have built up strong reputations with consumers such as Coca-Cola, Wrigley, and Benjamin Moore appear on this list as well because of their missteps.
To identify the most misleading product claims, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed significant government and private actions taken against companies based on deceptive practices or false advertising. To be considered for the list, a product had to be involved in a major settlement in recent years. Some products are on the list because the company took advantage of ambiguity and a lack of scientific evidence to make their claims. Others, such as Volkswagen, perpetrated a deception by rigging certain vehicle models to evade emission standards. For historical perspective, we also included products such as tobacco that made claims that were either deceptive or misleading. We focused the list on specific products rather than services.