The Federal Trade Commission continued its crackdown on allegedly deceptive auto ads.
On Thursday, it announced it had settled with Nissan North America and ad agency TBWA over an ad the FTC said was "false and misleading" because it showed a vehicle "doing something it can't do." The companies have agreed not to use "deceptive demonstrations" in ads going forward.
“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 in announcing the settlement. That doesn't mean Nissan can't use special effects, only that those effects can't misrepresent what a the vehicle can do.
Generally speaking, ads that show cars jumping onto trains or driving on two wheels or doing other unusual moves include disclaimers on-screen that the cars are on a closed track, or were stunts by professional drivers, or actually can't do what they are doing. The cited Nissan ad had a "fictionalized, do not attempt" advisory at the beginning, but the FTC did not find that sufficient.
In this case, the ad showed a Frontier pickup racing up what appeared to be a steep dune to push a stuck dune buggy up and over the top, to the amazement of the amateur vidoegraphers. It was done in a YouTube style, the FTC pointed out, as if it were an actual event shot from a mobile phone, which the FTC says was deceptive because it "represented, expressly or by implication, that the 'Hill Climb' advertisement accurately represented the performance of an actual, unaltered Nissan Frontier pickup truck under the depicted condition."
In fact, the FTC said, cables were used to drag the truck—and the buggy—up the dune, which was not as steep as it was made to appear.
There was no monetary penalty, but the companies agreed not to "misrepresent any material quality or feature of a pickup truck through the depiction of a test, experiment or demonstration."
Two weeks ago, the FTC announced it was stepping up efforts to put the brakes on deceptive auto ads with settlements against nine new car dealerships and advisories to media outlets to look for red flags in auto ads—like confusing fine print.
The FCC vote to accept the agreement was 4-0.