The three most common types of false advertising are failure to disclose, product disparagement and claims based on flawed or insignificant research. All three types can affect consumers, but failure to disclose is the most likely reason for legal action in cases involving an individual plaintiff. The latter two types generally involve class action specialists or corporate attorneys.
The broadest and most frequently occurring classification of false advertising falls under the legal heading of failure to disclose. Under failure to disclose statutes, all purposeful misinformation by a seller, ranging from outright fabrications to lies by omission, are fair game for civil action. Although they are often highly visible, court cases involving flagrant misrepresentations of widely distributed products are actually statistically rare. Such cases, when proven, are often accompanied by heavy punitive judgments in part to discourage future occurrences.
Much more frequently, false advertising by failure to disclose occurs on an individual-vs.-small-business basis. Real estate offices, for example, are frequent defendants. These types of cases generally involve failure to disclose certain issues with a property, such as structural damage or termite infestation, that would significantly reduce the resale value of a home. Likewise, legislation — aptly nicknamed “lemon laws” — has been put into place in several states to discourage the same type of unethical practices during the sale of used vehicles.
Other types of false advertising are far less likely to directly affect consumers. Product disparagement cases, for example, are almost exclusively the domain of corporate litigation attorneys. These lawsuits usually involve false claims made by the maker of a product against a competing product of another manufacturer. For damages to be awarded, it typically needs to be proven that the claims were indeed false. Therefore, general claims such as “product X tastes better than product Y” are rarely called to judgment because subjective opinions are extremely difficult to prove false.
A third type of false advertising involves advertising claims based on flawed or insignificant research and is commonly brought to litigation by either competing companies or consumers as class action lawsuits. Common occurrences of this type of litigation involve pharmaceuticals or personal care items that claim to produce results based on unscientific studies. These studies are usually funded by the manufacturer and contain insufficient numbers of subjects to produce accurate results or are conducted in such a way that they produce favorable results.