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What every business should know about misleading advertising

In spite of the rise of online and social media marketing, traditional advertising is still a highly effective marketing strategy which gets results.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) is responsible for monitoring advertising activity and taking action against businesses that they feel are displaying false or misleading advertisements.

Action taken by the ACCC can cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines so it’s worth paying attention to what the rules are and taking care that you don’t inadvertently breach them. It’s easy to get carried away when you are trying to make your advert stand out among the crowd but breaching the terms of the ACCC could mean you get the kind of attention you don’t want.

Here are a few of the rules you should be aware of which led to legal issues for a number of businesses in 2013.

You can’t make false statements

Any statements about the quality of a product and how or where it is manufactured can lead to legal action. Make sure that any claims you make can be substantiated or leave them out entirely. This includes offering to sell products for a specific price. If customers can’t get them at the advertised price you could find yourself in court.

Qualifying statements should be easy to read

If you advertise a special offer or a discount, which comes with conditions, the conditions need to be clearly displayed in the same sized font as the original offer. If you are tempted to hide the qualifiers in tiny font at the bottom of the advertisement think again – this could be seen as misleading and cost you a lot of money.

Consider the context of the advertisement

When looking at an advertisement it’s important to consider how it could be taken in different contexts. Although you may intend for it to be read by a certain audience in a certain way are there other ways it could be interpreted? Would these stand up in court? An unintentional misunderstanding could still potentially lead to legal action and headaches for your business.

If an issue is raised, make sure you co-operate

Even if you believe a potential issue is unreasonable and intend to challenge it, co-operations can help you avoid a long drawn out legal battle and it will help your business be viewed favourably by the ACCC. This could lead to lower penalties than if you make investigation difficult.

Don’t assume your audience have insider knowledge

Even though your advertisement might be targeted at a particular type of audience who are aware how your industry works, how would an outsider view it? Make sure you consider audiences who are aware and audiences who aren’t. If they don’t understand a particular practice, which is standard, and you have assumed they do, you could be seen to be misleading.

Fortunately there are plenty of ways to help your ad stand out without incurring the wrath of the ACCC or your audiences. By keeping out of legal trouble you can save your business a lot of money and preserve the reputation of your brand while you make the most of this effective marketing medium.

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Jo Macdermott

Jo Macdermott

<a href="http://au.linkedin.com/in/jomacdermott">Jo Macdermott</a> is the Chief Marketing Consultant at <a href="http://www.nextmarketing.com.au/">Next Marketing</a> in Melbourne. She has 15 years of marketing experience, is a Certified Practising Marketer and is a sought after marketing media commentator. Jo specialises in working with small and medium businesses. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/NextMarketingAU">Twitter here</a>.

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