Why lying in ads actually costs you more.

2015 saw some major revelations about brands telling lies, the most surprising being VW’s fixing of diesel emissions.

Turns out their 100 million rigged cars have been creating 40 times more pollution permitted, so hardly good for the environment or building your ethical reputation.

The “defeat devices” installed in the electronic control module of diesel vehicles issued between 2008 and 2015 has been classed now as criminal.

The cost to both the brand reputation (VW is the world’s largest producer by volume) and the sales has been catastrophic, it is estimated it will cost VW $86 billion (according to experts at Credit Suisse). Shares plummeted by over a third after the scandal – proving both the City and consumers doesn’t like brands that lie.

VW, once one of the top ten trusted brands is no longer trusted, proving lying is a short term strategy that will damage the business long term.

Of course it’s a lot harder to lie in ads these days, especially on TV but on the internet, it’s open house. From Twitter to digital ads, deception is the norm.

We’ve already had numerous scandals about faking up Twitter followers, Facebook likes and YouTube views to a point that only a fool would trust any social media figures these days.

Of course there’s a fine line between a lie and something implied – though those who like word games will spot that lied is in the word implied.

The BBC reported a number of social media based fake stories, images and videos created to deceive the public, sometimes exploiting breaking news situations.

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE. The image of a two-year-old sister protected by four-year-old brother in Nepal was shared across Facebook and Twitter by millions and prompted calls for donations. The picture was shot in Vietnam in 2007, not Nepal. Along side this photo, a video on YouTube, reported as security camera footage from a pool in a Kathmandu hotel was actually from an earthquake in Mexico in 2010.

THE INSTRAGRAM MIGRANT. The plausible story of a migrant recording his journey from Senegal to Spain, and posting it on Instagram, suckered a lot of people. Abdou Diouf from Dakar became a big hit and touched thousands of hearts, only for them to discover it was one big fake. In fact it was a marketing campaign for a photographic festival in Spain. While a few bimbo PR girls were patting themselves on the back, others were giving them a good kicking on social media.


PARIS. One of the sickest fakes was an image of the Paris concert shooting showing the inside of the Bataclan Theatre and the Eagles of Death Metal with a claim it was taken just before the shootings. In fact it was from a previous concert in Dublin.

Another fake was a picture taken from a project called Silent World, where photography tricks were used to show cities as they might appear at the end of the world, but this time was claimed to be Paris after the shootings.


NEVER TRUST A LAWYER. Well you can’t trust a German car company, and it appears you can’t trust their lawyers either. The German Bar Association tricked over 4.5 million people into believing a story about a divorced man, who sawed all his possessions in half and then put them on eBay. It was all a marketing campaign, but for what? Hardly builds trust.

My favourite entry into the gallery of “what were we thinking” is the credit card company who sent direct mailers out looking like tax bills. Hardly a smart way to start a warm relationship or to build trust when you discover you’ve been duped. No surprise the campaign had a zero response rate and the marketing department got a warning from the VC.

If you want a laugh, look at the CRACKED YouTube channel for revelations about ads that lie from vitamin drinks to mobile phones – ‘The 7 Most Blatant Lies Famous Brands Based Entire Ads On’ tohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsy9v1zp2Gs&ab_channel=Cracked

Or South Park’sAll ads liehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP_Pb-ou1-Q&ab_channel=SouthParkStudios


Sketchers implied that by wearing their ‘shape-up’ shoes you could get lose weight. Sketchers ended up loosing a good few pounds (well dollars actually) in FTC fines. Reebok made similar claims for its EasyTone shoes but that deception cost them $25 million in a law suite and had to offer a refund to all their customers.

Amoco oil claimed its petrol was more environmentally friendly because it was “crystal clear” rather than petrol coloured. They got a hefty fine for that load of BS.

Family brand Kellogg’s claimed that Rice Krispies “Now helps support your child’s IMMUNITY by providing 25 percent of daily recommended antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients.” This was based on dubious science.

More recently Nutella claimed that Nutella on toast in the morning was a good healthy start for your kids. Mothers took action and one sued them for $3m and their ads were banned.

When it comes to lying the number one rule must be never lie to mums, yet brand after brand tries their lucky. Trouble is, they all take to social media and organisations like Mumsnet join in and within days you’ve lost the trust of everyone mum in the country.


Historically one of the biggest scandals in the FMCG market was Sunny Delight, an orange drink that turned out not to be very orangey (other then through food dyes) and less delightful for mums because it was packed full of teeth rooting sugar – no wonder the kids got hyper on it. Overnight the value of that brand halved when all was revealed and that the advertising was a con – designed to make it look like a real orange drink.

Pepsico’s Naked Juice was criticised for using phrases like “100% Fruit,” “All Natural,” “All Natural Fruit” and “Non-GMO” on their packaging. Not only were the products not all-natural, some of Naked Juice’s products were made with genetically altered soy. A law suit brought against them for misleading people cost them $9m.

Meanwhile Coca-Cola’s Vitamin Water fell foul of ad regulators who banned their ads because claiming to be “nutritious” because the product actually contains 23g of sugar.

Overall lying in an advertising or marketing doesn’t pay, so why do marketing directors do it? Don’t blame the agencies, most will advise clients to tell the truth. And if the truth is bad, then you need to rethink your product or service.

Trust is one of the most important factors in engaging consumers, especially mums, and in sectors like finance, health and medicines. With social media just a click away, the old X-File slogan ‘the truth is out there’ can become a painful reality for some less ethical brands.


Chis Arnold is a regular blogger on Brand Republic and has also written for Campaign, Marketing and Third Sector magazine.

He is founder of Creative Orchestra Advertising, Comobi2 and The Garage (innovation lab).