An Advertising Claim Where the Truth Is 'False"

By Cooper, Brian | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), February 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

An Advertising Claim Where the Truth Is 'False"


Cooper, Brian, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


I work in the Newsroom, but I try to keep up with advertising issues, not only because advertising is a vital part of a newspaper's operation but because it spawns some interesting free- speech issues.

When it comes to making claims, advertisers enjoy wide berth. Who really cooks up the "best burgers in town" or provides "the best service anywhere" or sells the "best cars"? Most of those enterprises can't prove the claims. Some might cite sales numbers or a favorable restaurant review, or they might point to an unscientific "best of" poll (in which friends and family can stuff the ballot box).

Let's face it: There are countless examples where businesses push the limits with their claims. Occasionally, government or competitors take action against those making claims that are grossly overstated, false or downright dangerous. Ads involving food, medicine and health products tend to receive the most attention.

But even brash claims in those areas are tough to curb.

More than a decade ago, two giants in the pizza industry, Pizza Hut and Papa John's, went toe to toe in a false-advertising lawsuit. A federal appeals court rejected Pizza Hut's complaint about its competitor, observing that claims of "better" pizza and "better" ingredients were the "typical puffery" used in advertising. Pizza Hut tried to take the matter to a higher court, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear what could have been called a supreme pizza case.

Contrast our situation in the U.S. with a recent decision in Europe that takes matters to the opposite extreme.

Three months ago, the European Commission issued a ruling concerning the advertisement of another consumable product, bottled water. …

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