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Advertising Honestly: Five Terms Businesses and Shoppers Need to Know


Anchorage, Alaska – Dec. 2, 2009 – Free! Save! Guarantee! Businesses need to ensure they don't use these terms insincerely and consumers need to know if they are being deceived.

Advertising is an essential part of business; not only can it attract new customers or clients, but it can also leave a lasting impression of a business' brand or reputation. Misleading or unclear advertising can lead to unhappy customers.

BBB encourages self-regulation: Ultimately, the primary responsibility for truthful and non-deceptive advertising rests with the advertiser.

Your Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon, and Western Washington provides the following guidance about advertising phrases and tactics that can be misleading to consumers if not used properly:

1. FREE may be used whenever the advertiser is offering an unconditional and temporary gift, not a continuous combination offer. If an additional item must be purchased in order to receive a gift, such as "buy one, get one free," the advertiser must clearly disclose the conditions. In addition, an advertiser may not increase the price of the purchased item, nor decrease quantity or quality in conjunction with the free offer.

2. PRICE-REDUCTION CLAIMS such as "save up to …," should state both the minimum and maximum savings. The offer should not over emphasize the maximum savings value in a misleading manner. For example: An advertiser should not imply that the majority of the items on the sales rack are 50 percent off, when only 2 out of the 30 items are on sale for that discount. The number of items available at the maximum savings should comprise at least 10 percent of all the sale merchandise (unless local or state law requires otherwise).

3. LOWEST PRICES for products and services fluctuate regularly and it can be extremely difficult to claim, with certainty, that prices are lower than a competitors. Such claims should be avoided unless the advertiser can provide substantiation.

4. BAIT AND SWITCH is an illegal tactic in which an ad "baits" consumers with an alluring but insincere offer for a product or service that the company does not intend to sell. Instead, they "switch" and attempt to convince consumers to buy it at a higher price. In other situations, the same price is offered, but the item or service is a lower quality than what was advertised.

5. GUARANTEES AND WARRANTIES like "satisfaction guaranteed" and similar representations should be used in advertising only if the seller or manufacturer refunds the full purchase price at the buyer's request. A "lifetime guarantee" should clearly and prominently disclose the exact length of time the offer is valid. Any material limitations or conditions should be clearly and prominently disclosed, with complete details made accessible at the advertiser's store or on their Web site prior to the sale of the service or product. In the case of mail or telephone order sales, the full guarantee or warranty should be available free upon request.

For additional guidance on fair and honest advertising, please read BBB's Code of Advertising. For information on how to maintain ethical business practices, please check out BBB's Code of Business Practices.

Consumers who fall victim to unethical advertising practices can file a complaint at www.bbb.org.


About your BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington:
Your Better Business Bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by Better Business Bureau Accredited Businesses. The BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. For more information about the services and products provided by your BBB, call 206-431-2222 or 253-830-2924 in Washington, 503-212-3022 in Oregon, 907-562-0704 in Alaska, or visit our Web site at www.bbb.org.

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