Small Business Advertising

Is Your Advertising Inside the Law?

Written by Jay Shapiro for Gaebler Ventures

Is your advertising within legal boundaries? Too much Photoshop could land you in the cop shop. Here's how to keep your ad campaigns squeaky clean, effective and lawful.

It doesn't matter what size your business is; any advertising you use must adhere to ad law.

Now, you probably wouldn't set out to break the rules but it's surprising how easy it is to fall foul of them, simply because you are unaware of the ins and outs of what is legal and what isn't.

Here are the most frequent issues that arise:

Product misrepresentation:

Any descriptive writings and images must provide consumers with an accurate depiction of the product they will receive. If you sell marker pens, for example, it is illegal to feature an image of ten pens on the packaging if there are only eight therein. It is also illegal to digitally enhance photographs in order to make your product look bigger or better than it is in reality.

Stick to the facts:

It is an offence to make false claims about a product. You can't say, for instance, that your yak's wool balaclavas area made by monks in Guatemala unless they are. If you make untrue statements about your product you can face hefty fines.

Substantiate facts:

You need substantiate any claims you make about your product with proof. So if your product really does clear spots in five minutes then you need verifiable testimonials and maybe even the support of a respected dermatologist to back this up. It is also good practice to gather all substantiating evidence, before you make any claims.

Any health and safety claims require top notch substantiation. Say you provide nutritional supplements; you ought to aim to have an independent non-biased study carried out.

False testimonials

The internet is thought to be rife with companies using fake testimonials. Don't be tempted to do this. Bear in mind that if you offer monetary reward for testimonials you are legally obliged to disclose the fact. It is different in the case of an expert of well known authority. If you request a testimonial from such a person you will very likely be required to pay for it, but in this instance it is not a legal requirement fro you to declare having done so.

Photoshop can land you in the cop shop

It is permitted to use digital methods to touch in photographs or enhance them, but if you do this, you must disclose as much. So, if you digitally lengthen and thicken a model's eyelashes in order to sell mascara you have to state that the lashes in the picture have been graphically altered.

Pricing and product comparisons

When you use terms like 'reduced', 'sale' or 'Worth $100' you are only legally allowed to do so if you have previously offered the goods at the pre-knockdown price for a realistic period of time.

Likewise, if you claim that another company sells the same product as you at a lower price you need to be able to back this up with evidence. Appealing terms like 'special offer' or 'end of line' should only be used when you are offering a special price or the product is part of your back catalogue.

Guarantees and warrantees

You are not obliged to advertise the fact that you offer any guarantees or warrantees. However, should you choose to, you need to clearly state any terms and limitations attached to the guarantee. So if you sell products by mail order and offer a full refund to dissatisfied customers then state that, but you will also need to inform them if you don't cover P&P, for example.

These are the seven issues that most commonly lead to advertisers making slip ups. Maintain your company's reputation by making sure you keep within the law. It's easy once you know how.

Jay Shapiro is a freelance writer based in the UK. Jay has a particular interest in the emotive aspects of the entrepreneur's character. "Alongside the nuts and bolts of business, the character of the person is often the ingredient responsible for success."

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