Which Industry Makes the Most Misleading Ads?

My vote is for the companies that design closets. The photos in their ads routinely show closets that are drenched in sunlight while the owners of those closets always seem to possess exactly three pairs of (identical and very clean) pants or skirts but not a single accordion, hockey stick, papier-mache dragon, or any of the other stuff that actually lives in closets.

On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a funny ad campaign from Ocean City, Md., urging tourists to get to its beaches before the ocean evaporates. This is the cleverest repurposing I have seen yet of climate-change panic.

Who gets your vote for most misleading ads?


A couple i find misleading:

clean&clear face wash commercials where the girls seem to be wearing makeup as they wash their faces.

proactiv, where jessica simpson laments on how acne made her singing career so difficult

neutrogene, where the girls says something to the effect of "washing your face is boring...WRONG!" (i, on the other hand, routinely fall asleep while washing my face due to sheer boredom)

any food commercial (KFC especially) where the family seems to be getting along so well as a direct result of the food


I couldn't agree more with #64.

In Hong Kong where girls are obsessed with having light skin (as a sign of not having to do outdoor labor and thus wealth), cosmetic companies like Lancome often use very pale white people for whitening cream ads.


I'm one of the gen x luddhites that got rid of his television but I used to like to listen to television commercials and pretend that they were bragging. It made almost all of them sound like the socially inept kid that everybody hated.


@ 64.....

That is bizarre. I would love to see these commercials. :)

Do you know of any sources on the web for similar ads?


I always like the "life time" warranty ad. Whose life to be specific? Somehow I believe it is the product's life and not the consumers'---


I live in Hong Kong, where the truth in advertising laws must be rather dodgy. You often see ads for new apartment buildings that feature Caucasian men and women dolled up in Louis XIV period garb, flouncing around in ballrooms and horseback riding through luxurious gardens. In reality, they are selling some unremarkable, overpriced, 500 square foot apartments in ugly 40 storey high rise buildings.

Even the ads that depict the actual buildings (as opposed to French chateaus or Bavarian palaces) show them surrounded by sparkling oceans and endless green lawns. Instead of the highway or the run-down old neighbourhood that's actually there.

It's hilarious.


As a new mom, I find that there are all kinds of ads for baby stuff that are misleading. Try Dr. Brown's bottles for one: they claim to help with colic, but meanwhile are made with BPA--which now has been banned in Canada and Europe.

Also, soy baby formula is marketed as helping make babies less fussy (presumably because of milk sensitivity), but 40% of babies who are allergic to milk are allergic to soy.

Finally, I am sick and tired of celebrity moms getting back in shape four or five days after delivering. Stop using your baby pictures to gain revenue and making the rest of us feel guilty for not losing the baby weight in a nanosecond! I will not buy you People magazine--even if you have Jessica Alba on the cover!


Geez, Mike Mixer, what a downer.


Here in Singapore, there is this ad for a certain high-end skin care company that advertises its "Miracle Water" (the actual term used) as containing a revolutionary ingredient somehow derived from rice, if I remember correctly (Pitera, if that's how you spell it). From my talks with friends who used it, it either worked very well or very badly, to the extent that it destroyed one person's otherwise nearly flawless complexion. My father (who studied pharmacy) later identified Pitera as some sort of hormone.

Aside from that, I agree with Rigby that 'creative talents' behind ads only need minimal information about the product they are promoting. For example, in some of the (in my opinion) most effective and memorable fragrance ads i've seen, there is little or no verbal communication directed at the viewer (although it can be argued that we all probably know what perfume does and don't need to be told). Instead, they use a string of visual and maybe audio (in the form of provocative music or breathing sounds, perhaps) cues (semiotics) that collectively make one or several mere implications, and these implications are some sort of vague promise that you can be like the people they feature in the ad. Ultimately in this case they don't need to know much about the product because they do little more than portray the product as a sort of medium or passport to obtaining represented qualities or lifestyles we find desireable in the models in that ad.



@Davey #56, I've never seen the ad so I have no idea. I even did a search on those words so I could get what he was saying before commenting, but came up with nada.

In any event, there should be no stigma attached to having any disease. People who think that it's disconcerting to hear those words from an attractive woman contribute to the difficulty you describe in having a disease. The pain is bad enough; there shouldn't have to be embarrassment as well.

If her statement is out of context to the setting, then I get what you both are saying. I probably wouldn't declare that in a wedding toast, for example. But if it's just that it's strange for an attractive woman to tell you she a story about her disease, then yes, I have a problem with that comment.

Chris S.

I'll vouch for Becky in #14:

I used to work for "R&D" at a major US cosmetics manufacturer. FDA labeling regs require/allow labeling ingredients that comprise at least 0.01% of the product by weight. So many products that are advertised "Now with XXX" (B complex vitamins, kelp extract, aloe, etc.) are formulated with EXACTLY 0.01% of the "pixie dust" (the actual jargon at this manufacturer) so that they can make the claim on the bottle.

As this cosmetics company has a long history, they have an extensive "library" of old products no longer sold. To introduce "new" products, they often resurrect old products under new names.

Add a little pixie dust to a few defunct products, some new bottles and boxes, and voila...brand new product line. (They did this very thing a few years ago.)



I remember when a small local bank flooded the airwaves with the typical small bank message: "You have unique needs; we're small enough to give you great service!"

Anyway, the bank was quickly and quietly acquired by a large out-of-state bank and right away started in with the big bank message: "You have unique needs; we're big enough to give you great service!"


I think that ads for skin care products, face washes and shampoos are the most misleading. Those products will allegedly make you look and feel like a million bucks, when in reality, you can wash your face and apply zit cream all you want and it will only make you look marginally better than you would anyway.

Mike Mixer

The industry that gets my vote for the most misleading ads has been around for for literally centuries and has made innumerable claims without any shred of actual proof save a book and those selfsame centuries filled with the repetition of those aforementioned claims. Whether it be Judaism,
Christianity, or Islam the scam is always the same.

Sarah Hartsfield

There is a really funny ad for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina trying to get people to vacation there. They show pictures of the beach and all of the things to do there and one of the pictures is a picture of a shark. Why in the world would a commercial trying to get people to vacation at a beach show a picture of a shark?


Becca @54, please, I don't think Ed was committing a personal attack on you. You have to admit, to see that idyllic scene and then hear those words is more than a little out of kilter. I can imagine that someone with that disease finds it difficult to enjoy life at times.

As to misleading ads, I'd have to say beer ads. Basically, the ads depict guys drinking a particular beer and then getting to hang around with lots of hot girls on the beach. And those girls always seem to be jumping up and down in their bikinis. My uncle summed these commercials up succinctly once when he and I were watching a ball game and one of those commercials came on. He just muttered, "Jeez, shake your ____, sell some beer."


Wal-Mart ads.


Definitely the penis enlargement industry, who is already so shady they can't actually say the word penis or state that their product lengthens a man's penis - only that it gives a man "more confidence" in "that certain part" of their anatomy.


@Ed #9

No, but as someone with Ulcerative Colitis, I'm curious what your problem with an attractive woman in a car representing it is.

Marc Savoy

What about beer commercials? They're practically indistinguishable from another all ending up with some super model finding you irresistible, conveying the same implicit message that their brand of suds will instantly transform you into some babe magnet.

If that isn't misleading, I don't know what is.