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The Art of Deceptive Advertising: Quick Review of False & Misleading Tricks Used In Ads

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thumbnailIf you drool over that gleaming pure honey flowing over steamy mashed potato you’ve seen on TV, hold your horses. You’re likely salivating over motor oil and freshly microwaved wet tampon placed behind the potato. These are some of the common techniques used by ad people to make products more visually tantalizing in advertisements. Other deceptive tricks used in ads include:

– Use of hairspray to make fruits and vegetables appear fresh
– Replacing actual ice cream with mashed potato for a more solid appearance
– Putting antacids to create fizzle in soda

To show the disparity between ads and actual products, we reviewed an infographic that compares the fake shoot and real product of popular food, hotel and fashion brands. Our software reviews show that alarmingly, the actual items look a lot different from their ads.

Sometimes the fake out is funny especially in hotels and resorts. For example, an ad shows an infinity pool using a low angle, but in truth, the pool is more like an oversized jacuzzi. You’ll find more hilarious if not annoying hotel ads reviewed in the infographic.

You’re also probably familiar with the extensive “photoshopping” of makeup or fashion models until they appear emaciated humans who barely resemble normal beings.

If you think these little trade tricks are harmless or at least irritating because you’ve been had, the American Medical Association thinks they have serious consequences. In their review they suggest these ads of unrealistic body images are linked to eating disorders and “other child and adolescent health problems.”

We have regulations that monitor fake advertising in the US, but clearly, we need more as many companies come up with B2B advertising ideas that really exploit the viewers and create a false image of a product. In the meantime, big and small companies owe it to the American consumers, the lifeblood of their business, to only show ads that truly represent their product or service.



Here’s McDonald’s comment on how they take photos of their products and why they differ from the actual food sold in their restaurants:

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Raw data that we used:

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

Anna says:

Interesting article and vivid illustration by infographics, thank you! I agree that "deceptive advertising" can be fun sometimes , but by itself it needs to be regulated as in general it misleads people forming biased understanding of the product or service they are going later on to purchase/use. What if the product that was misleadingly advertised to the customer may contain harmful elements and during the usage harms the customer. It can be a serious problem for both sides-the company and the customer.
All in all, even though the cases may be funny sometimes, the damage and harm that deceptive advertising can cause overweights for sure.

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Hyman says:

Of course google is above the law. Multinational companies cannot easily be pinned down into national laws. This is one big advantage of globalization over consumers.

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Tegan Pyke says:

Great infographic. It's unsettling how few consumers underestimate the amount of staging and photoshop that goes into the average advert!

But is it me or are the photos for the fashion model on the upper right mixed up? She's definitely missing the top of her pelvis in the 'reality' photo.

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Art Cheale says:

50% of Americans still believe in ads? I find that a shock considering how many information and truths have been uncovered because of the Internet. You need to wake up people! Start asserting your right to the truth! False advertising is false, period. If advertising agencies are not held accountable for their deceptions and people still continue to believe and buy their products, then we are only helping in cultivating and promoting a culture of lies and deceits. Sad but true.

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Porter Kripke says:

I believe we are intelligent human beings. Most of us are, anyway. But it really surprises why so many people still fall for TV ads. Diet products that magically shave down the pounds without you working at the gym and dedicating yourself to a strict diet are total BS. Yet I still see people wasting hard earned cash to order ab machines and diet pills. What a waste!

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Chip says:

Lies! Lies! Lies! The advertising industry will do everything it can to satisfy their clients, even if that means presenting materials on print and TV that are very far off from the actual products. I agree with the burger ads. What you see is not exactly what you are getting. It's plain, straight up false advertisement. Reminds me of a Michael Douglas movie, Falling Down, methinks.

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christine says:

Half of Americans still believe they'll get the flat abs in a week with that pill or ab machine. Things like these are still rampant in home TV shopping. I must admit these shows can be entertaining, but they do pull some calls still. Nice work here. Let's make billboards out of this and put them across America!

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zenoelea says:

This reminds me of the Banksy letter attacking advertisers, which went viral. The letter was arranged to the silhouette of a Coke bottle. Brilliant. Funny, it turns out the letter was fake. To be fair, some of the hotel shots are artistically done and not outright rip-offs. It's just a matter of finding the best angle.

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gene says:

Good stuff and well done really. It's amazing that 50% still believe in "honest" advertising, especially nowadays

Some of the worse cases of deceptive and false advertising are in the recruitment area, very well known and very large multinational are involved in advertising that are either false, deceptive or misleading.

Examples: (in Europe) advertise the same positions over and over since years. The goal is just to collect resumes, most of the jobs have no real openings (this is illegal of course and hard to prove).

Google, besides advertising thousands of the same jobs weeks after weeks everywhere from Linkedin to, they also mislead their would be applicants.
To test I applied for a position in Hamburg, Germany with a resume that matched perfectly the job description.
I was called the next day by a recruiter based in Ireland and after few minutes I was asked if I would consider relocating to Dublin, Ireland. When I legitimately said that the job description clearly stated that the job was based in Hamburg and not Dublin, the discussion suddenly took a very different turn. There was no job offer for Hamburg. The only way they found to attract candidates to Dublin (call center with tax avoidance schemes) was to lie and pretend the job was based elsewhere.

This is also illegal but again, companies like Google are acting as if they were above the law..

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