Advertisers and their agencies must be sure advertising does not overstep social and legal norms. Public policy makers have developed a substantial body of laws and regulations to govern advertising.
Under US law, advertisers must not make false claims, such as stating that a product cures something when it does not. They must avoid false demonstrating such as using sand covered plexiglass instead of sandpaper to demonstrate that a razor blade can shave sandpaper. It is illegal in the United States to create ads that have the capacity to deceive, even though no one may actually be deceived. For example, a floor wax cannot be advertised as giving six monthsâ€™ protection unless it does so under typical conditions, and diet bread cannot be advertised as having fewer calories simply because its slices are thinner. The problem is how to tell the difference between deception and â€œpufferyâ€ â€“ simple exaggerations not intended to be believed which are permitted by law.
Sellers in the United States are legally obligated to avoid bait-and-switch advertising that attracts buyers under false pretenses. Suppose a seller advertises a sewing machine at $149. When consumers try to buy the advertised machine, the seller cannot then refuse to sell it, down play its features, shows a faulty one, or promise unreasonable delivery dates in order to switch the buyer to a more expensive machine.
To be socially responsible advertisers must be careful not to offend the general public as well as any ethnic group or special interest groups. Ads for Calvin Klein apparel have often been accused of crossing the lines of decency, with ads featuring the model Kate Moss that came under attack from Boycott Anorexic Marketing and ads featuring pubescent models â€“ some reportedly as young as 15 in provocation poses, which resulted in a massive letter writing campaign from the American Family Association.
Every year a nonprofit trade group â€œAdvertising Women of New Yorkâ€ singles out TV and print ads that it feels portray particularly good or bad images of women. In 2004, Sirius satellite Radio won the TV Grand Ugly for its â€œCar Washâ€ ad, which featured Pam Anderson in a wet tank top using her entire body to clean a young manâ€™s car. Print Grand Ugly went to a Sony Play station ad that featured a woman giving birth to the head of a grown man. The TV Grand Good ad went to a Master Card commercial in which a woman opens a jar of pickles after her weakling husband fails the test.