Advertisers Cannot Misrepresent Key Attributes in Product Demonstrations, FTC Says
Nissan North America, Inc., and an advertising agency that designed television ads for the mid-sized Nissan Frontier pickup truck have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising for a 30-second ad showing a Frontier pushing a dune buggy up a steep hill, something the truck actually cannot do.
According to the administrative complaints, Nissan and TBWA promoted the Frontier pickup truck with a “Hill Climb” advertisement that showed the vehicle rescuing a dune buggy trapped in sand on a steep hill, while onlookers observe the feat in amazement. It was produced in a realistic “YouTube” style, as if it were shot on a mobile phone video camera.
The administrative complaints allege that Nissan and TBWA violated the FTC Act by representing that the ad accurately showed the performance of an unaltered Nissan Frontier under the conditions that were depicted. In fact, the truck is not capable of pushing the dune buggy up and over the hill, and both the truck and the dune buggy were dragged to the top of the hill by cables, according to the complaints. The complaints also allege that the hill was made to look significantly steeper than it actually was.
“Special effects in ads can be entertaining, but advertisers can’t use them to misrepresent what a product can do,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This ad made the Nissan Frontier appear capable of doing something it can’t do.”
Under the proposed settlements, Nissan and TBWA cannot misrepresent any material quality or feature of a pickup truck through the depiction of a test, experiment, or demonstration. The orders do not prohibit the use of special effects and other production techniques as long as they do not misrepresent a material quality or feature of the pickup truck.
This case is part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from misleading advertising.
The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement package containing the proposed consent orders for public comment was 4-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly.
The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through Monday February 24, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments in electronic form should be submitted using the following Web link: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/nissannorthamericaconsent and https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/tbwaconsent following the instructions on the web-based form. Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Office of Public Affairs
Matthew D. Gold, Evan Rose
FTC Western Region, San Francisco