One of the titans of America’s post-war advertising industry, Bill Bernbach, offered useful advice to the clients who sought his expertise: “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”
Then, as now, companies can be tempted to give what they hope would be a compelling sales line a higher priority than accuracy.
One of the most notorious offenders were the makers of Listerine mouthwash who for decades got away with telling American consumers the product was also a remedy for sore throats and colds.
US courts and the Federal Trade Commission ruled it wasn’t and ordered the company to spend millions on ads correcting the false claims.
We have our Advertising Standards Authority to keep the industry on the straight and narrow, as it has done this week by hauling broadband and mobile phone firms over the coals for deals offering “unlimited” data.
Customers, when the bills came, discovered there were in fact limits, and a financial penalty was the punishment for exceeding them. The authority has told the firms the word “unlimited” needs to be “re-assessed”. Let us assist them: it means without limits.