Companies try to put the best possible spin on their products through advertising, but when they stretch the truth or make outright false claims, they risk expensive legal battles, penalties from regulators and damning publicity.
Here are eight examples of advertising claims that went too far and landed into trouble with federal authorities and consumer groups:
1. Bell Canada was handed a $10 million penalty in June 2011, the maximum penalty allowed under Canada's Competition Act, for misleading consumers about the real costs of phone, internet, satellite-TV and wireless services, through advertising that hid additional fees in fine-print disclaimers.
2. Athletic shoe company Reebok paid $25 million US in September 2011 to settle charges by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over claims that “toning shoes” could strengthen muscles in the legs, thighs and buttocks. Ads featured women in shorts with shapely bottoms and even claimed the shoes would “make your boobs jealous.”
3. The manufacturer of Nivea advertised that regular use of its My Silhouette cream would slim and reshape the body and reduce specific parts of the body such as the thighs, hips, waist and belly. In September 2011, Canada’s Competition Bureau said there was no evidence for the claims and required the company to make refunds to consumers, pay a $300,000 penalty and the $80,000 cost of the investigation, while also publishing prominent correction notices.
4. The maker of Nutella, the hazel nut and chocolate spread, settled a class action lawsuit for $2.5 million US in April 2012 over its claims the treat was a healthy food. The lawsuit contended Nutella contained dangerous levels of saturated fat and was more than 55 per cent processed sugar.
5.Yogurt maker Dannon paid $56 million US in December 2010 to settle charges from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and class action lawsuits over claims that the probiotic bacteria in its yogurt could aid regularity and prevent colds or flu.
6. Health Canada requested the maker of Cold-Fx in January 2012 to cease labelling its product with the claim that it “Stops Cold or Flu in its Tracks.” Health Canada said the only approved claim for the natural health product was that it "helps reduce the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system."
7. Warner-Lambert, the maker of Listerine mouthwash, was ordered by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 1976 to spend $10 million US on ads with the message: “Contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity.”
8.Q-Ray bracelet advertising claimed the device could provide relief from arthritic pain and other ailments, despite the lack of any scientific evidence. An $87-million US judgment against the company was upheld in 2008, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission began mailing out 248,931 refund cheques in 2011.