18 Common Red Flags for False Advertising in Marketing Campaigns

To help you identify false advertising in marketing campaigns, we’ve gathered insights from eighteen industry professionals, including directors and founders. From being cautious of unsubstantiated “guaranteed results” to recognizing the red flag of asterisks leading to the fine print, these experts share their top tips on what to look for.

  • Unsubstantiated “Guaranteed Results”
  • Insufficient evidence to support claims
  • Fake Timers and Numbers
  • Reviews of Bad Customers
  • Vague Terminology without Evidence
  • Hidden Costs
  • Bait-and Switch Advertising Techniques
  • Greenwashing
  • Insufficient information to verify
  • Clickbait
  • Over-edited Images of Products
  • Misleading words
  • Empty celebrity endorsements
  • Recurring price fluctuations
  • “Free” Offers
  • False Advertisers Posing As Major Brands
  • Exaggerated product comparisons
  • Asterisks that lead to fine print

1. Unsubstantiated “Guaranteed Results”

One significant red flag that indicates false advertising in marketing campaigns is using “guaranteed results” with no substantiation or fine print. The industry cannot guarantee results without a variety of variables such as the market, consumer behavior and competition.

For instance, we once took over a campaign for a client who had been promised a “guaranteed 300% ROI” by another agency. It is not surprising that the campaign underperformed and left the client feeling frustrated and sceptical of marketing agencies.

Dig deeper whenever you see “guaranteed” claims, especially those that sound too good to be true. For example, ask for case studies, evidence, or the method behind these guarantees. If the agency or campaign can’t provide these, you’re likely dealing with false advertising. Always exercise due diligence to ensure you’re not falling into a marketing trap.

Simon Brisk, Director, Click Intelligence Ltd

2. Insufficient evidence to support claims

The absence of any evidence supporting the claims being made is an obvious red flag.

For instance, a competitor’s campaign once promised “300% growth in customer engagement” within a month, a claim splashed across their ads. It was intriguing, yes, but when you dig a little deeper it turns out that there were no case studies or testimonials. Skeptical in nature, it was decided to steer clear of the company and to advise customers to do the exact same.

Credibility is not just about big promises. Facts and data are also important. This experience reinforced our commitment to transparent data-backed advertising.

Josh “Snow” Elizetxe, Founder, Customer Feedback

3. Fake Timers and Numbers

One of the giant red flags for false advertising I’ve noticed recently is that of companies claiming that there’s limited stock or a limited time to purchase to receive a particular deal. Many companies use these tactics as a way to market their products. However, some have included fake timers and numbers on their websites.

It can be hard to tell if these examples of false advertising are real or not. If you can, get a friend to visit the site on a different internet connection and determine if the timer starts again or if there’s a different number. You can also wait to see if it restarts. This could result in you missing out on some real opportunities.

Michael Maroney – Marketing Director and Lead Biologist, Infinite Outdoors

4. Reviews of Bad Customers

Customer reviews are a great way to uncover the truth and spot any false advertising.

YouTubers were found to give great advice in their videos a few years back. He also sold consulting services and a booking call was considered. Reddit users who were asked what they thought of him all replied that he was a scam. He ghosted and took their booking fees.

Customers like to read reviews. People who have bad experiences are usually more than happy to share their knowledge with others.

Scott Lieberman is the owner of Touchdown Money

5. Vague Terminology without Evidence

Marketing that uses vague language without proving it and providing specifics is false advertising. It might be misleading if a campaign uses words like “revolutionary” or “scientifically proven” without showing the certificate or evidence.

Many people say that their marketing shows promising results. Even when asked for proof, they will not share it and instead verbally declare that they are showing exceptional results. You should be wary of ads that sound too good, without explaining the truth.

Rehana Aslam is a Marketing Assistant at Instantly API

6. Hidden Costs

False advertisements are often the result of hidden fees and costs. A company may advertise a low-cost product or service, but it must also include any additional fees that the customer must pay. Subscription fees, payments to use certain features or surprise delivery charges are all examples.

Examine the terms and condition, checkout pages and other relevant documents for any unanticipated charges that were not advertised during the initial marketing campaign. When presented with an offer that seems too good to be true, you should exercise caution.

Gerrid Smith is Chief Marketing Officer at Joy Organics

7. Advertisements that Use Bait and Switch

Bait-and switch is a misleading marketing tactic that has been used for years. It involves an offer that is tempting. It replaces the offer with something less attractive after the customer is engaged.

In an advertisement, a shop might heavily discount a luxury item, but when the customer arrives at the store, they may say that the item has sold out and then try to upsell the buyer to a higher-priced model. This is dishonest, because the advertised benefits do not materialize. Be wary of discounts that seem to good to be true. This is especially the case if they are drastically different from what was advertised.

Tom Miller is the Director of Marketing at Fitness Volt

8. Greenwashing

As more consumers want to purchase sustainable, eco-friendly products, “greenwashing” is rising. Brands who make false environmental claims or misleading practices are guilty of “greenwashing”. They usually do this in order to gain an edge over their competitors or to improve their public image.

Red flags to watch for may include a product that’s promoted as “eco-friendly,” “sustainable,” or “natural,” with no supporting evidence, or when a brand singles out one green aspect while ignoring the product’s overall footprint.

If you encounter what might be greenwashed marketing, be skeptical. Do thorough research on the internet before making any purchases. Remember the idiom, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Emily Onkey, Co-Founder and CMO, Aplós

9. Insufficient information to verify

Unverifiable claims about a product or service indicate false advertising. A lack of transparency in a marketing campaign’s claims can be interpreted as an attempt to hide information.

A skincare product that claims to be “doctor-recommended” without naming any specific physicians or providing any supporting proof should be viewed with skepticism. In order to make an informed choice, consumers need accurate information. They should avoid misleading advertising and seek out transparent and accurate information.

Rameez Usmani Digital PR and Chief marketing officer, Solar Panel Installation

10. Clickbait

Clickbait should be avoided. These catchy phrases or headlines are meant to get your attention and make you click on an ad. If you do click, however, it is important that the content matches the hype.

It’s a sneaky tactic some marketers use to generate traffic or leads, but it can be misleading and frustrating for consumers. Be cautious if an advertisement seems too good-to-be true or makes unrealistic promises. Do some research and don’t take any action unless you are sure. Don’t let clickbait fool you.

Johannes Larsson is the founder and CEO of JohannesLarsson.com

11. Over-edited Images of Products

The product images should closely match what they appear like in reality. Online listings can be over-edited and give consumers a deceptive appearance of a product that is not up to the standard they expect. This is true especially for clothes, bags, shoes and other fabric products.

Fake products are those that lack part numbers, logos and seals. This includes industrial, electronic, and mechanical products such as motion controllers, actuators and sensors. The item description may indicate “genuine” or “original,” but the images are edited to look legit.

Campbell Tourgis VP Sales and Marketing Wainbee

12. The Use of Misleading Words

“Made with” is not the same as “made of.” If clothing is made with cotton, it may be mostly rayon, polyester, or some other plastic. Your dessert may be made of corn syrup, even if it is chocolate. Pay close attention to the smaller words in advertising—the conjunctions and prepositions can say quite a lot, and hide even more.

Michael Power, CMO, DTF Transfers

13. Empty celebrity endorsements

It’s a red flag when an ad claims a celebrity endorses the product, but they aren’t featured in the graphics. In images or videos, celebrities who endorse brands are usually seen using the products they promote. It’s a form of high-profile social proof. If the celebrity isn’t shown using their items on any of their marketing assets, then this is likely an empty claim for a bogus offer.

Stephan Baldwin, Founder of Assisted Living Center

14. Price Fluctuations that Recur

A red flag you should look out for when examining a marketing campaign to detect false advertisement is frequent price changes, discounts, and promotions that lack a convincing explanation. Unusual irregularities may raise doubts about the validity of an offer.

To identify false advertising, it is important to understand that all credible marketing campaigns adhere to a consistent discount and pricing structure. If marketing materials are frequently altered in these areas without an explanation, this is a clear indication that the advertised offers may only be partially reliable.

Consumers can detect misleading marketing by examining the pricing and discounting mechanisms.

Jeffrey Pitrak, Transient Specialists Marketing Account Manager

15. “Free” Offers

It’s a big red flag when advertisements flaunt the word “free.” Getting something for free sounds fantastic, but often there’s a catch. When an ad screams “free,” it often tries to divert your attention away from hidden fees or conditions you might not notice at first glance.

In my own experience, I’ve seen businesses use the promise of “free” to get people to make purchases they wouldn’t otherwise make. A free trial could turn into a paid membership or a product that is free but has outrageous shipping charges. “Free” can be a way to lure you into spending more than you intended.

I’ve also encountered situations where “free” is tied to illegal pyramid schemes. These schemes offer rewards for minimal efforts, such as making payments, recruiting others or posting ads on obscure sites. It’s vital to spot these schemes to protect yourself and avoid getting into something messy.

Jonathan Merry is the Founder of Moneyzine

16. False Advertisers Claiming to be Major Brands

False advertising is common in the online shopping industry. As an example, they might post ads with an attractive sale on Jordan sneakers. However, when you look closer, you notice the Jordan logo isn’t the original from Nike. A subtle change in the basketballer’s position gives away the scam.

It’s always wise to inspect product listings—especially the images—before purchasing any sale items. False advertisers are clever so that you won’t notice their inconsistencies at face value.

Michael Nemeroff is the CEO and co-founder of Rush Order Tees

17. Exaggerated product comparisons

False advertisements can include exaggerated products comparisons with competitors. Warning signs include advertisements declaring their product as “the best” or “better than all others,” offering no proof to support their claims.

For example, an ad for a smartphone might say that it’s “the fastest phone in the world,” but this claim isn’t true without testing data to back it up. Beware of marketing material that makes inflated claims without providing any supporting information.

Bruce Mohr is Vice President, Fair Credit

18. Asterisks that lead to fine print

You spot an ad—”70% off diamond rings!”—and your heart leaps. It seems too good to be real. It’s often true. That’s where the little asterisk comes in. It’s like the plot of your favorite film. You’re cruising along, enjoying the show, and then—boom!—everything changes.

You can usually find fine print hidden away in the contract. It might say the discount only applies when you buy another piece at full price or during a certain time frame—limitations that make your “jackpot” more like a small win at a carnival game.

What’s my advice? Sherlock Holmes is the best way to proceed when you see asterisks. If you need clarification, ask questions and read the fine print. A truly awesome deal will be as sparkling and clear as a diamond with no asterisks to dim its brilliance.

Nikhil Jogia is the Managing Director of Jogia diamonds

How to Spot False Advertisement

Based on the expert insights you’ve just read, here are some concrete tips for identifying false advertising. Follow these guidelines to make informed choices and safeguard your choice.

Evaluate “Guaranteed Results”

  • Request case studies or statistical proof to support any “guaranteed” claims.
  • Beware of promises that seem too good to true.
  • Please read all fine print that comes with any guarantee.

You must provide evidence for all claims

  • Consider data, customer testimonials or endorsements that are credible.
  • Absence of concrete evidence should be a warning sign.
  • Don’t rely on flashy headlines—dig deeper to find the facts.

Watch out for fake timers and scarcity tactics

  • Check to see if the timers reset on different devices and connections.
  • Consumers are often pushed into hasty decisions by a false sense of urgency.
  • If you are unsure, wait and see if it is a real timer or scarcity.

Check out Customer Reviews

  • Review reviews across multiple platforms for a more complete picture.
  • Uncensored opinions can be found on social media sites and forums such as Reddit.
  • When you see a lot of negative feedback or complaints, be cautious.

Avoid Using Vague Terms

  • Watch for words like “revolutionary” and “scientifically proven.”
  • You may need to provide additional documents, such as certifications or studies.
  • A lack of evidence that supports vague claims is an obvious red flag.

Look out for hidden costs

  • Be sure to read all terms and conditions before you checkout.
  • Be cautious of deals that seem unrealistically cheap—there might be hidden fees.
  • Transparency of pricing is a sign that a company is more trustworthy.

Avoid Bait-and-Switch Tactics

  • Limitations in time or availability should be viewed with caution.
  • Avoid upselling to expensive items if the original product cannot be found.
  • Consumer protection laws are often violated by bait-and-switch.

Guard Against Greenwashing

  • Search for eco-certifications that are legitimate or environmental impact reports.
  • Be skeptical of broad terms like “natural” and “sustainable” without evidence.
  • Research the brand’s overall commitment to sustainability, not just a single green feature.

Verify the information

  • If a claim can’t be easily verified, be skeptical.
  • Transparency: The more transparent a company, the more trustworthy they will be.
  • Credible brands offer access to evidence or other information.

Don’t Fall for Clickbait

  • Before clicking, do some research.
  • If the content doesn’t match the headline, steer clear.
  • Unreliable information is often indicated by headlines that are misleading or inaccurate.

By incorporating these tips into your decision-making process, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the often-murky waters of modern advertising. Keep your eyes peeled and your skepticism handy; a savvy consumer is a scam artist’s worst nightmare. Happy shopping! 🛒

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