Consumers have the right to expect that a business will not mislead or deceive them.
Businesses cannot rely on small print and disclaimers as an excuse for misleading or deceptive conduct.
It is illegal for businesses to mislead consumers when advertising goods and services.
Business conduct is likely to break the law if it creates a misleading overall impression among the audience about (for example) the price, value or quality of consumer goods or services.
It is a business´s actions and statements that matter - not its intentions. A business can mislead and deceive, without intending to.
Puffery is wildly exaggerated, fanciful or vague claims that no reasonable person could possibly treat seriously or find misleading. There is no legal distinction between puffery and misleading or deceptive conduct-only a court can decide depending on the circumstances of each case.
A business is breaking the law if it fails to disclose relevant facts to you. Whether this silence is misleading or deceptive will depend on the circumstances of each case.
Disclaimers and fine print
Businesses cannot rely on the fine print to advise consumers of important facts about a good or service. However, as a consumer you cannot just ignore disclaimers, because they are not illegal if they are prominently displayed and don´t undermine the offer being made.
Predictions and opinions
A promise, opinion or prediction can be misleading or deceptive if the business knew it was false, did not care if it was true or not, or had no reasonable grounds for making it.
The following advertising messages may be regarded as misleading:
- a transport company giving the impression that it takes freight by air when it actually sends it by road
- a mobile phone seller offering free weekend calls, but not stressing that the offer excludes calls to other mobile networks
- a business advertising a job in a newspaper´s professional employment section but not clarifying that the job is commission based
- a business holding a ´25% off all stock´ sale when they are excluding some items
- a business marketing reduced rates to entice customers, when only a limited number of items are actually available at that rate
- a business advertising property for less than the bottom end of the price range quoted to the seller.
If you believe that a business´s advertising material is misleading, first write to the business manager and try to resolve your dispute directly.
If you are unsatisfied with the response, lodge a complaint with us or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Contact the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) if you believe that any advertising is offensive on the basis of:
- discrimination (race, nationality, sex, age, sexual preference, religion, disability or political beliefs)
- strong or course language
- portrayal of sex, sexuality or nudity
- health and safety
- causing alarm or distress to children.
Lodge a complaint online at the ASB website.
Last reviewed 11/04/2013