8 Of The Biggest Brands That Lied To You In The ’70s And ’80s
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In this modern era of personal branding, where authenticity in social media posts is often rare and everybody’s guilty of embellishing each of life’s small feelings of happiness, companies are being watched more closely than ever. It’s much harder to make claims like, “Listerine will cure your dandruff.”
We wanted to take a look back at some of the most epic claims that the FTC found to be false, as well as some major campaigns that activist groups managed to shut down.
Dig into this brief history of false advertising to see how many times the nation’s most established brands attempted (and failed) to dupe their
1. LISTERINE CANNOT CURE YOUR COLD.
Beginning in 1921, the makers of Listerine have marketed the product as a remedy for your cold. It took 50 years for them to be challenged on this bold statement. In 1972, a complaint was finally filed, and in 1977, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a 1975 decision that ruled against Listerine. From that point forward, Listerine had to cease and desist any advertising claim regarding coughs or colds. They also had to include this message on products through the next $10 million they spent in marketing: “Contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity.” Other things Listerine claimed to cure: dandruff and infections from small wounds.
2. WONDER BREAD DID NOT HELP YOUR CHILDREN TO GROW.
In 1976, the brains behind Wonder Bread (Itt Continental Baking Company) were issued a cease and desist by the FTC, requiring them to stop claiming false nutritional facts when marketing their popular loaves. The FTC specifically took issue with their claim that Wonder Bread was “an extraordinary food for producing dramatic growth in children.” Among the advertisements that raised eyebrows was this commercial, where Wonder Bread showed a tiny kid morphing into a 12-year-old in seconds.
3. CHRYSLER-PLYMOUTH CARS DIDN’T GET BETTER GAS MILEAGE.
A complaint in 1974 sent Chrysler-Plymouth cruising into court, where a 1977 verdict by U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a prior verdict that the company was falsely claiming its compact cars like the Dodge Dart or Plymouth Duster got better gas mileage than sedans. The issue here was that Chrysler was misrepresenting data from Popular Science, which found that some of its small cars did legitimately get more miles per gallon, just not all “Small cars are not created equal.”
4. THE SEARS LADY KENMORE DISHWASHER ACTUALLY DID REQUIRE YOU TO PRE-WASH DISHES.
It was a bold marketing claim that Sears introduced for its Lady Kenmore dishwasher line in the 1970s: No scraping, no rinsing; the dishwasher does it all. The only problem was it didn’t, and an investigation began in 1975 and concluded in 1982 when the U.S. Court of Appeals insisted the company stop with the false advertising, including claims that the dishwasher cleaned the top rack as well as the bottom rack.
5. WALGREENS EXAGGERATED THE HEALING POWER OF ADVIL.
Here’s a more complex case, where Walgreen Co. was found guilty of false advertising in 1987 due to claims the drugstore made about Advil’s strength as a painkiller. Particularly problematic was a statement Walgreens made in an ad that Advil was like a “prescription pain reliever… without a prescription!” You could say that was just slightly less neutral than Advil’s own claim, “Medicine for pain.”
6. POPEYE CREATES CONTROVERSY FOR INSTANT QUAKER OATMEAL.
And now for something completely different, let’s revisit a seemingly innocent move Instant Quaker Oatmeal made in 1989 when the company paired with Popeye to unexpectedly controversial results. When Popeye declared in a commercial, “I’m Popeye, the Quaker Man,” it aggravated actual members of the group the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The pacifists opposed Popeye as a symbol of violence that did not jive with Quaker beliefs. Quakers also extended their critical eye to Olive Oyl, who was also in the commercials and seen as way too submissive in a time when Quakers advocated for women’s rights. Their opposition forced Quaker to quiet the Popeye slogan, removing it from commercials, as well as any ads featured in the Popeye comics.
7. ORKIN BACKPEDALS ON THEIR LIFETIME GUARANTEE.
Orkin dominated pest control in the 1960s and ’70s, and some think this had a lot to do with their lifetime guarantee of services for a fixed annual fee. But when Rollins, Inc., bought the company at the end of the ’70s, a look at the finances showed the company didn’t account for inflation at all in the initial contracts. When they tried to update fees subsequently, they breached more than 200,000 contracts. The U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit did not let that fly, ruling against the Orkin Man’s claims that raising for inflation was reasonable in 1988. That annual renewal fee in 1973 was $37. In today’s dollars, that’s just over $210.
8. GNC TAKES ADVANTAGE OF DIET FADS.
The 1980s were a major era for dieting, and General Nutrition, Inc., was among many companies dinged for falsely advertising dietary supplements. In 1989, the FTC found that GNC had deceived dieters enough to require a cease and desist order. Among the offending products were “Challenge Growth and Training Vita-Pak,” “Challenge Free Form Amino Acids,” “Life Expander Growth Hormone Releaser” and the “24 Hour Diet Plan.”
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