Truth in advertising is of crucial importance. You’ve likely heard people talk about it before — it’s common sense. If a customer sees an ad that suggests your business has a special “half-off all food during happy hour” deal, and then they come to your restaurant and find that the deal only applies to french fries…they’re not going to be too happy, and they probably won’t come back to your business. The same goes for any business, any product.
What you might not know is that truth in advertising is actually the law. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) takes action to prevent fraud perpetrated against consumers, including false advertising.
This applies to any advertisement, physical or digital. However, the FTC focuses primarily on advertising claims related to consumer health and finances, or as they say on their website: “claims about food, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, alcohol, and tobacco and on conduct related to high tech products and the internet.”
Generally, the FTC will send a warning letter before taking any action against false advertising, giving the perpetrator time to remove the ad and make good. Hopefully, you’re not running any false ads, but if you are, you should stop before the FTC has to send one of those letters. The focus of this article is not about how to deal with the FTC; this article is about how to design and run truthful ads that work.
The Importance of Truth in Advertising
The first reason it’s important to practice truth in advertising is that it manages expectations. You want potential customers to know exactly what you’re offering. If they show up and it turns out you promised more than you can deliver, they’re going to leave, and it’s going to hurt your reputation. They’ll probably tell their friends and family not to visit your business, too.
Conversely, when you meet customer expectations set by your advertisements, they’ll be happy and more likely to return. This is about building a reputation for your brand. It’s about creating a brand experience that resonates.
Lastly, as mentioned above, truth in advertising will keep you out of legal trouble. If customers are particularly disgruntled by what they perceive as false advertising, they might bypass the FTC and sue you themselves. You don’t want to find yourself in a long and costly legal battle.
Practicing Truth in Advertising
The thing about advertisements is they have to be persuasive. That’s where creativity comes into play. Let’s say you run a salon. Haircuts are $50 and make up the vast majority of your business. You need to communicate this in your advertisement but also actually persuade people to come to your business. Instead of just running an ad that says, “Come to Jackie’s Salon, where haircuts cost $50,” think of a special deal you might offer.
“At Jackie’s Salon, every 5th haircut is 25% off” is a far more effective advertisement. But, of course, you have to follow up on that deal — you have to practice truth in advertising. The point is, you need to figure out how to reward customers for coming to your business.
Maybe whatever you sell is special and unique enough that you don’t have to come up with a deal, but most businesses aren’t offering products or services that are vastly different from their local competitors.
If your business fills a specific niche, you can simply advertise your hours, location, and other basic information if you run a destination restaurant. For most people, though, you do have to figure out those special deals.
Running contests is an excellent way to practice truth in advertising while boosting your business and giving consumers extra motivation to visit you and spend some money. Social media advertising works best for this.
If your contest prize doesn’t have too much cash value, you’ll want to hold it over a shorter amount of time to keep people interested. You wouldn’t want to try billboard advertising here — by the time the contest ended, the billboard would still be up, and the information on it would no longer be valid.
It can be tempting to massage the truth just a little bit in your ads. Please don’t do that. Just think of creative ways to make your business stand out!
Research to understand your customers. Pursue local advertisement tactics and build a good reputation in your area. Utilize grocery store advertising in conjunction with social media advertising. Truthful, multi-channel advertising strategies work best.