WRITTEN BY Katie Innes
This month at Business Breakfast Club Katie Innes of BAL Lawyers discussed the pitfalls and risks of advertising and promotion for businesses. While there is significant breadth to this area of the law, the focus lay on discussing cases which dealt with misleading and deceptive conduct, the concept of puffery, and the impact of using social media and managing online reviews.
The power of advertising and the societal need to protect the consumer are real, despite most of us having a fair amount of cynicism when reading or watching advertisements. Under the Australian Consumer Law a person must not (in trade or commerce) engage in conduct which is misleading and deceptive or likely to mislead and deceive. This establishes a norm of conduct for businesses to ensure they are truthful in all their advertising. This doesn’t prevent traders from being able to reflect their products or services in a favourable light. Instances where your claims are so wildly exaggerated are “puffery” and are not illegal – such advertising statements are not considered misleading and deceptive because the reasonable person could not possibly treat the statement as being serious as to lead them into confusion.
Comparative advertising is allowed, and encouraged as it enables better informed choices which can assist consumers. It would be inconsistent with public policy and the Australian Consumer Law to restrict an advertiser from publicising, truthfully, a feature of its product that is superior to the same feature of a competitor’s product. That said, Courts are likely to consider this type of advertising more closely and more likely to mislead or deceive if the comparisons are inaccurate.
Yes, but you need to be mindful to use these carefully. Advertisers can use fine print (or those fast talking disclaimers) to alert the consumer to any terms or conditions governing the principal message. However the information in the fine print must not contradict the overall message of the advertisement. The fine print also needs to be sufficiently prominent to ensure that, taken overall, the advertisement is not misleading. Consumers don’t look at advertisements in isolation; it is the overall impression left so don’t use “Terms and Conditions apply” in tiny font which can barely be seen in a full page ad (for example).