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Gruen returns for its eighth season. But aside from host, Wil Anderson’s banter and Tom Sampson’s t-shirts, people enjoy the show for its analysis and critique of the ads they view every day. Sitting on a couch, listening to the panel may feel as if you are in the board room at an advertising agency, but their work is important and highlights how ads can misguide, mislead and coerce individuals. How can you then avoid falling victim to an advertisement’s buzzwords and hyperbolic claims? We look at five misleading advertisements below, and set out the key takeaways for businesses and consumers.

Kleenex’s “Flushable Wipes”

Kleenex sold “flushable wipes” and promoted their product as disintegrating as toilet paper. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. During recent Choice testing, the wipes did not disintegrate even after 20 hours of flush testing.  If your product doesn’t do what you advertised it would, this is likely to be a problem.

IKEA’s “Leather” Lounge

Earlier this year, IKEA advertised a polyurethane lounge in the leather section of their website, providing a false impression to consumers.

Olay Definity Eye Cream

In 2009, Olay promoted their “Definity eye cream” by showing a 62 year old Twiggy virtually wrinkle free. This retouching and gross misrepresentation of products was taken from the air when the misrepresentation was highlighted.

Groupon Ad-Word Misuse

A San Francisco tour company sued Groupon for misleading ads in Google. Groupon used keywords related to tourist attractions but unrelated to their coupons to trigger ads.

New Balance “Calorie Burners”

New Balance claimed to have shoes that activated glute, calves and hamstrings and consequently burned calories. They explained that they achieved these results with “secret technology”. Unfortunately, these results were less a case of “calorie burning” footwear, but of New Balance’s misleading advertising. 

What do Businesses Need to Know About Misleading Advertising?

Businesses should know that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regulates consumer law, and advocates for consumer rights. It is then your obligation to present accurate and truthful information and messages about your products and services to your consumers. Methods of communication include:

  • Advertising,
  • Packaging,
  • Online activity,
  • Logos,
  • Endorsements, or
  • Sales pitches.  

What do Consumers Need to Know About Misleading Advertising?

If you are a consumer, it falls on you to report any misleading conduct or misrepresentation to the ACCC. You should also proactively research what constitutes misleading or deceptive conduct in advertising, and be mindful of fanciful claims or misrepresentations.

What is Allowed in Advertising?

Australian Consumer Law (ACL) mandates honest advertising practices.  You cannot make illegal claims, and you can’t mislead your consumers through false advertising or fine print. Although, you can use puffery.

All information provided to your customers must be current and correct, and you should take care to use simple and clear language. You must also correct all misunderstandings, and misleading information borne by your advertisements. Finally, you must be able to substantiate your claims with evidence where appropriate. 

You don’t want your business featured on Gruen for the wrong reasons! You would rather your agency be invited to create an ad on the show, rather than the subject of Russell Howcroft’s biting criticsm. 

Questions about misleading advertising and Australia’s Consumer Law? Get in touch.


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