Everyone knows that advertising should be taken with a pinch of salt. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Advertisers spin and shade the truth in their favor. But sometimes they go a few steps too far and promote products based on outright falsehoods. From bogus cancer cures to biologically impossible weight-loss gimmicks, here are the 10 biggest lies ever told in advertising.
10. Bayer: "Vitamins prevent cancer"
Bayer was sued in a class action complaint last year after running TV and radio ads that suggested one of the ingredients in its One A Day vitamin supplement brand prevents prostate cancer. Vitamins, obviously, don't fight cancer. Bayer eventually paid a fine and signed a legal agreement banning it from claiming vitamins cure cancer last year.
9. Bush Sr.: "Dukakis gave Willie Horton a weekend prison pass"
Compared to the viciousness of today's political advertising, President George H.W. Bush's 1988 attack ad on Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis seems calm and level-headed. Dukakis did not in fact create the prison furlough program that allowed Horton to escape (although he didn't end when he had the chance). That gray area allowed Bush's team to set a new, race-to-the-bottom standard in election advertising: The smear ad.
8. Steve Garvey: "Lose Weight Without Dieting or Exercise"
Few remember the Enforma infomercials of the 1990s in which baseball player Steve Garvey promoted two diet supplements -- a "Fat Trapper" that purported to prevent the absorption of fat; and a product named "Exercise In A Bottle" -- which together would allow you to lose weight without dieting or exercise. The FTC pursued Garvey through the federal courts for years, an epic legal battle it ultimately lost when a federal appeals court ruled that celebrity endorsers were not liable for misleading statements in ads. The ruling led to the FTC's new regulations making it illegal for celebrities to make false statements in advertising.
7. Hoover: "2 Free flights to America"
In 1992, Britons couldn't believe their luck when Hoover began offering a two round-trip flights to Europe for any customer who spent just Â£100 on any Hoover item. The trouble was, there were no flights as Hoover wasn't expecting the massive response that followed as people snapped up every vacuum cleaner they could find in order to get the free trips. Bizarrely, Hoover then extended the offer and, infamously, promoted two free trips to the U.S. for every Hoover product purchased. Consumers soon found that in order to claim the tickets, they had to fill in several forms, and mail them to the company, which then sent them more forms, and so on. Hoover's attempt to renege on its campaign promises made front-page news and a parliamentary inquiry was started. The promotion eventually cost Hoover Â£48 million. The campaign is one of the biggest advertising fiascos in history.
6. Ralph Lauren: "PhotoShop Disaster"
In 2009, fashion retailer Ralph Lauren put out a series of ads so heavily airbrushed that the models in them appeared to have heads larger than their waists. Such was Lauren's desire to create a new esthetic of super-thinness that he fired one of the models, Fillipa Hamilton, because she was "overweight." (She weighed 120 pounds.) Lauren briefly attempted to cover up the incident by threatening to sue bloggers who published the image ... and then apologized after learning that "we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body."
5. Kevin Trudeau: "Coral calcium cures cancer"
Of the many lies that infomercial scam king Kevin Trudeau has peddled -- "Hair Farming," "Mega Memory System," "Addiction Breaking System," and "Mega Reading" among them -- it was his early 2000s ads for Coral Calcium that were the worst. Trudeau hosted a "show" with Robert Barefoot, who told viewers that unspecified articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine "said that calcium supplements reverse cancer -- that's a quote." Neither journal said that. The FTC has been trying to put him in prison for years.
4. Lyndon Johnson: "Voting for Barry Goldwater will cause nuclear war"
Johnson didn't actually say that Goldwater would blow everyone up in the 1964 presidential election, but his "Daisy" ad -- featuring a little girl plucking at a flower before being engulfed by a mushroom cloud -- sure suggested he would. Goldwater actually only favored a resumption of nuclear testing. Johnson pulled the ad almost immediately, but got the publicity benefit anyway.
3. Enzyte: "Fuller, firmer erections"
Steve Warshak spent $374 million on TV commercials featuring "Smilin' Bob," a grinning buffoon with a "big new swing of confidence." He even sponsored a Nascar race team. Trouble was, Enzyte doesn't have any clinical effect on the male genito-urinary system whatsoever, and Warshak was overbilling his customers' credit card numbers. Warshak was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
2. Debi Mazar: "I lost 60 pounds in 10 weeks"
The Belly Burner belt will not make you lose 60 pounds in 10 weeks, not matter what Entourage star Debi Mazar says. That's six pounds of lost weight per week -- it's physically impossible. Mazar fails to say whether part of that 60 pounds included the baby she was carrying before decided she wanted to take off her post-partum weight gain. There are thousands of misleading diet and exercise ads out there and this one isn't particularly special, it's just that these misleading claims don't usually involve stars of the caliber of Mazar.
1. Big Tobacco: "Cigarettes are good for your health"
Hard to believe, but there was a time when tobacco companies pushed the line that doctors approved of smoking or that certain brands were better for your throat than others. This is just one of dozens of ads featuring doctors recommending or "preferring" one brand of smokes over another. No more.