What’s the difference between exaggeration of the truth and misleading information?

In the world of advertising, many brands appear to be clueless about the matter. Either that, or deliberately cunning.

Recently, Kellogg’s UK was hit with a ban from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) after making false health claims in its advert for Special K cereal.

Since the ruling, it has apologised for the ‘error’.

Just one in a long line of brands to falsely claim a product has health benefits, it seems to be a sad result of our quest for ‘wellness’. 

Why do brands do it?

Well, consumers aren’t silly. We know chocolate is bad for us and broccoli is good.

But when advertising is littered with words like ‘nutritious’, ‘healthy’ and ‘goodness’ – even when they’re not – we’re drawn in to the illusion that we’re making better choices.

Here are six brands that have capitalised on this with some very sneaky marketing. 

Special K

The aforementioned culprit – Special K recently claimed that its porridge was “full of goodness” and that its Nutri K Flakes were "nutritious". 

However, the company failed to back up this message with any specific health benefits or related ingredients. 

Interestingly, the branding on the Special K website is all about health and nutrition.

Its latest range is called ‘nourish’, which surely promotes the idea that the products benefit your health. 

This time, it cleverly uses this disclaimer to back it up: "*Special K Nourish is a source of vitamin D and vitamin B2. Enjoy as part of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle."

In other words, that probably means you have to pair it with some kale to get the benefits.

Oppo Ice Cream

Another brand failing to provide specific examples to back up its health claims.

The fact that Oppo Ice Cream is made with all natural ingredients means it doesn’t deserve quite as much wrath.

However, using the words ‘super fruit’ and ‘superfood’ on its website, the company still failed to relate it to the ingredients spirulina, lucuma or baobab. 

Interestingly, the complaint was originally made by rival ice cream brand Perfect World, meaning that this was more of a case of brand-on-brand sabotage than consumer grievance. 


Painkillers target all types of pain. This is basic common sense, and yet Nurofen would like to have us believe that its products are made to target specific pain-points. 

In a recent advert for Nurofen Back and Joint Pain, it suggested that the product had a special mechanism to target this area of the body... which it obviously does not.

In a landmark ruling, the ASA banned the advert, but the best thing to come out of the case is that it is likely to spark a crackdown on other brands in the pharmaceutical industry who misleadingly market products based on specific ailments. 


One of the worst examples of false advertising in recent years, VitaminWater tried to market its (sugar-laden) product as a healthy alternative to soda.

Using the tagline “vitamins + water = all you need”, it failed to mention or correctly highlight the eight teaspoons of sugar in every bottle.

The US non-profit organisation, Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been battling for years to get a ruling against the brand.

With the recent agreement that VitaminWater should add “with sweeteners” to its branding, it’s finally seen some success. 


Chocolate is a great start to any day, right?

Granted, what it isn’t is a healthy start to the day. 

Kids' favourite Nesquik got itself in hot water last year with its misleading advert, effectively encouraging poor nutritional habits in children.

Despite defending its 20.2 grams of sugar with the claim that most of this comes from the lactose in milk, the brand was rightly forced to remove the strapline.

As you can see from the below snapshot, it’s still insisting on pushing the boundaries.

Pom Wonderful

Recently, Pom Wonderful lost its bid to challenge the FTC ruling that the brand deceptively advertised its products. 

While the previous examples claimed products were ‘healthy’ when they’re weren’t, Pom Wonderful went one step further and claimed that its pomegranate juice could treat or aid heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

It’s an incredible case, but its conclusion is certainly a victory for the consumer, with greater scientific evidence now a requirement for such bold claims.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 22 August, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Big companies' marketing teams seem to lack an honesty / fairness gene.
That's an awful lot of <cough>'mis-information' you have uncovered there just in the food sector.
Just as well as you didn't include banking, pension companies, VW cars, energy companies... :<)

almost 2 years ago

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