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Nine More Great Moments in False Advertising


When the pitch really is too good to be true.

Low fat. No money down. Mission accomplished. Occasionally, the folks behind a product feel the need to paint a picture that isn't necessarily true to lure in the unsuspecting masses. Be it a purported discount price or a lab coat-clad actor in the commercial giving his "professional" opinion, false advertising comes in a multitude of flavors and ostensibly dates back to the Stone Age when a Neanderthal hyped a spear for its "state-of-the-art grip" and "35%-improved accuracy."

The past few weeks have seen an ad-fueled melee erupt between Verizon Wireless (VZ) and AT&T (T) over claims made in Verizon's commercials. In the "There's a Map for That" campaign, the series of commercials feature a side-by-side comparison of either carrier's 3G coverage illustrated on two US maps.

While AT&T doesn't deny that its 3G coverage is undeniably lacking, the company is up in arms over the possibility that viewers would misinterpret the maps and infer that AT&T customers can't make a phone call in areas uncolored in the map -- this, despite the very clear "3G Coverage" caption underneath the maps in every instance.

AT&T filed charges against Verizon, claiming false advertising, which Verizon -- knowing it was legally in the clear -- more than happily contested. In fact, Verizon addressed the lawsuit in a company statement this week and got right to the guts of the story within the first lines of the introduction:

"AT&T did not file this lawsuit because Verizon's 'There's A Map For That' advertisements are untrue; AT&T sued because Verizon's ads are true and the truth hurts."

Pulling absolutely no punches, the statement goes on to say:

"In the final analysis, AT&T seeks emergency relief because Verizon's side-by-side, apples-to-apples comparison of its own 3G coverage with AT&T's confirms what the marketplace has been saying for months: AT&T failed to invest adequately in the necessary infrastructure to expand its 3G coverage to support its growth in smartphone business, and the usefulness of its service to smartphone users has suffered accordingly."

But in the end, US District Court Judge Timothy Batten confirmed what everyone already knew: There's nothing misleading about the ads. Judge Batten denied AT&T's injunction to have the ads taken off the air and said that while the viewers may misunderstand the maps, "most people who are watching TV are semi-catatonic" anyway and it doesn't constitute false advertising.

A follow-up hearing is scheduled for December 16, but the writing's already on the wall.

Although Verizon didn't engage in false advertising, the use is quite prevalent in the marketing world. Barely a week goes by without another company being accused or another class action settlement being doled out. In May, Minyanville took a look at eight notable instances of false advertising, and here's nine more for you to enjoy.

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