As we point out in our Promotion Decisions tutorial, a sizeable hurdle marketers face when promoting their products is the need to be heard above the “noise” created by competitors. Because customers constantly are bombarded with promotional messages, marketers often seek ways to stand out so those in the target market will pay attention. There are several options for doing this. One is to increase the frequency of advertising in hopes repetitiveness will eventually get customers to pay attention. Or in the case of sales promotion, placing a product display in an area of a retail store that customers cannot avoid.
Another option is to create promotions that are very different from what the market is used to experiencing. For instance, Apple’s classic “1984” Super Bowl ad is often used as an example of an ad countering advertising norms. Yet, sometimes in their quest to rise above the noise, creativity gets the best of a marketer resulting in a far different result than what the marketer envisioned. For example, a company well-known for producing humorous advertisements may find customers are far less responsive if the company shifts their creative approach to more serious subject matter.
Or worse, when fighting to rise above the noise marketers become too creative to the point where their message is not even supported by the facts. In these cases, while misleading messages may initially capture the attention of the target market, eventually these people will be put off by what the advertiser is offering. And, if glaringly misleading, the marketer’s messages will also draw attention from another interested group - legal authorities.
Over the years, many companies have faced government scrutiny for their promotions. In most cases, the government is claiming promotions are not just slightly misleading but are intentionally deceptive. In other words, the company behind the promotion is aware that what is being said is purposely twisting the truth.
For serious cases, a company confronted by government claims of false promotion must decide whether to accept they were doing wrong or fight the claims in court. History tells us that most will eventually settle with the government and, as discussed in this Business Insider story, pay a significant fine. The story looks back at 18 cases of false product promotions. While most of the cases relate to companies claiming product benefits that are unsupported by research, there are also issues dealing pricing and overstated product features. Companies discussed include many well-known brands including Volkswagen, Walmart, Kellogg, Red Bull and L’Oreal.