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Marketing Without Advertising 6: Honest Ads

Friday, January 11th 2013. | Marketing

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Why Online Marketing6Lest you become completely discouraged about the possibility of a better standard of honesty in advertising, there is hope. At least two nations, Japan and Sweden, encourage honesty in their advertising. In neither country do ads have “fine print” that contradicts the main message, nor do they permit the sorts of puffery and hype we are used to and which all too often amount to little more than lying.


Japan’s tradition of honest advertising is a long one. In the first century A.D., Chinese visitors were so impressed with the honesty of Japanese businesses that they recorded it as a main attribute of their culture. This 2,000-year-old history of honesty is today reflected in many details: Restaurants display samples of their food in the window and quote prices in round numbers, including sales tax and tip. If you see an 800-yen price advertised for an item, it is the total price you pay. Nolo’s Stephanie Harolde, who lived and worked in Japan, adds that Japanese businesses never put down their competitors or used comparisons that intimated their product was better than the competitors’.

In Sweden, whose culture is closer to our own, there has been a more deliberate political decision to foster truthful advertising. In that country, it has been against the law since the early 1970s to be deceptive in advertising. To accomplish this, the government not only extended its criminal code to proscribe deceptive advertising, but also formed an administrative agency to enforce the law. As a result, the Swedish people now strongly defend the integrity of their advertising. Perhaps someday we, too, will be proud of ours.


Deceptive advertising is technically illegal in the United States, but enforcement is minimal. The legal standards for advertising are discussed in Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred Steingold (Nolo).

We mention the Japanese and Swedish use of advertising to urge that, should you ever decide to advertise, your advertisements should be scrupulously honest and as distinct as possible in style, content, and location from the general run of other ads. For example, if you limit an offering in a print ad in any way, do so in print as large as the offer itself. If you advertise a service, don’t overstate the likely beneficial result of using it, and include a warning as to any risk.

Source: Michael Phillips & Salli Rasberry, “Marketing Without Advertising: Easy Ways to Build a Business Your Customers Will Love and Recommend,” Nolo, 2008

Republished by Why Online Marketing


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