The captions read “2 Months Later” and, of course, to ensure that the copy was not untruthful, Viator added the advertised product to his regimen in-between the two photographs (Lightsey 2006).

Since the Tryptophan disaster of the 1980s, the Ephedra incidents, and then the steroid scandals among Olympic athletes and well-known American professional sports figures in the late 90s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased regulation of health food products, such as by prohibiting the outright claims to treat or cure any human disease without classification of the product as a drug subject to lengthy clinical trials and proof of safety and efficacy (Halbert & Ingulli 2000).

As a result, all supplement products sold (legally) in health food stores now bear a statement ensuring that “This product is not intended to treat or cure any disease.” The problem is, everything else on the label purposely contradicts that proviso. Male libido enhancers display muscular young men with beautiful women caressing them under superimposed statements like “Improve stamina!” “Increase performance!” And “Never miss an opportunity again!” all while never actually claiming to treat or cure impotence. As unethical as it may be to market weight loss products, intestinal “cleansers,” and “male enhancement” deceptively, compliance with the laws governing marketing copy barely scratches the surface in terms of protecting consumers from advertising and marketing techniques that are no less deceptive than untruthful copy. Several state attorneys general have brought charges against General Nutrition Franchises (GNC), the nations largest, after undercover agents posed as customers asking GNC employees for products to treat everything from acne and diabetes to cancer and other deadly diseases.

With only a few exceptions, instead of informing the customer that none of its products are capable of curing or treating disease, (as required by federal law), the clerks proceeded to select various supplements while, in fact, explaining how they can cure and treat the diseases mentioned by the undercover agents.

In many cases on record, actual consumers had neglected consulting qualified medical professionals while they wasted critical time necessary to treat aggressive serious diseases like cancer by following the medical advice dispensed by health food store clerks with no education beyond high school (Lightsey 2006).

Conclusion – Toward Greater Honesty in Advertising:

Honesty is a much broader concept than the literal truth of words; it also applies to the nature of any impression or belief designed to be communicated by marketing strategy. Notwithstanding the great strides made by legislators since the earliest period of unregulated products, advertising, and marketing, contemporary laws and ethical standards still focus too narrowly on literal truth instead of the truthfulness of the message under the totality of its circumstances. In principle, the intentional transmission of an untruthful perception through the creative use of words that are truthful only in the most literal sense is hardly less deceptive than is lying outright to generate sales.

Ultimately, that and not literal truth, is the standard to which advertisers must aspire.


Belch, G, Belch, M. (1998) Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated

Marketing Communications Perspective. New York: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Friedman, L. (2005) a History of American Law. New York: Touchstone.

Halbert, T., Ingulli, E. (2000) Law & Ethics in the Business Environment. Cincinnati: West Legal Studies. Lightsey, D. (2006) Muscles, Speed & Lies: What the Sport Supplement Industry Does Not Want Athletes or Consumers to Know. Guilford, CT: Lyons

Howard, M. (2005) We Know What You Want: How They Change Your.


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