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”
  • Absence of Supporting Evidence for Claims
  • Fake Timers and Numbers
  • Bad Customer Reviews
  • Vague Terminology Without Evidence
  • Hidden Costs
  • Bait-and-Switch Advertising Tactics
  • Greenwashing
  • Lack of Verifiable Information
  • Clickbait
  • Over-edited Product Images
  • Misleading Use of Words
  • Empty Celebrity Endorsements
  • Recurrent Price Fluctuations
  • “Free” Offers
  • False Advertisers Posing as Major Brands
  • Exaggerated Product Comparisons
  • Asterisks Leading 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. Our industry can only guarantee results if we have many variables like market conditions, 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. Not surprisingly, the campaign had underperformed, leaving the client frustrated and skeptical of marketing agencies.

Dig deeper whenever you see “guaranteed” claims, especially those that sound too good to be true. Ask for case studies, proof, or the methodology behind such 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. Absence of Supporting Evidence for Claims

One glaring red flag for false advertising is a complete absence of supporting evidence for the claims made.

For instance, a competitor’s campaign once promised “300% growth in customer engagement” within a month, a claim splashed across their ads. Intriguing, sure, but digging a little deeper, it was noticed that they offered zero data, case studies, or testimonials to back it up. Skeptical, the decision was made to steer clear and advise clients to do the same.

A persuasive marketing campaign must offer more than just big promises; it needs factual substance to lend it credibility. This experience reinforced the commitment to transparent, data-backed marketing.

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. While many companies are truthful about these things and use them as a marketing strategy, many have included fake timers or numbers regarding sold items on their sites.

The problem is that these false advertising examples can be difficult to spot and determine, real or fake. 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 could also wait out the period to see if the timer restarts, which could mean you lose out on real opportunities.

Michael Maroney, Marketing Director and Lead Biologist, Infinite Outdoors

4. Bad Customer Reviews

Reading customer reviews is a foolproof way to spot false advertising and uncover the truth.

A few years ago, a YouTuber was found giving great advice in his videos. He was also selling consulting services, and there was a thought about booking a call. People on Reddit were asked about their experiences with him, and every one replied that it was a scam. They said he took their booking fee and ghosted them.

This is why customer reviews are liked. Most people who have had bad experiences with a company are more than willing to help others avoid making the same mistake.

Scott Lieberman, Owner, Touchdown Money

5. Vague Terminology Without Evidence

Excessive use of vague terminology without any proven evidence and specific details is a warning sign of false advertising in marketing. It might be misleading if a campaign uses words like “revolutionary” or “scientifically proven” without showing the certificate or evidence.

Most people claim that they are showing promising results in their marketing. Still, when asked for certified results, they refuse to share and just verbally claim they are showing extraordinary results. So, be cautious when ads sound too good without explaining their truth.

Rehana Aslam, Marketing Assistant, Instantly API

6. Hidden Costs

Hidden costs and fees are a frequent source of false advertising. Companies may market a product or service at a low price but must include additional charges that customers must pay. Examples are subscription costs, additional payments for using certain features, and surprise delivery costs.

To identify this red flag, carefully examine the terms and conditions, checkout pages, and other relevant documentation for unanticipated fees not conspicuously advertised in the initial marketing campaign. You should always exercise caution when presented with a deal that looks too good.

Gerrid Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, Joy Organics

7. Bait-and-Switch Advertising Tactics

Bait-and-switch is a classic, misleading advertising tactic in which a company attracts people with a tempting offer. Still, it replaces it with something less desirable after the customer engages.

A shop may heavily discount a high-end item in an ad, only to say the item is sold out when the buyer arrives, and try to upsell them to a more expensive model. This strategy is dishonest and misleading because it fails to provide the benefits that were advertised. Be skeptical of discounts that appear too good to be true, especially if the product or service drastically differs from what was advertised.

Tom Miller, Director of Marketing, Fitness Volt

8. Greenwashing

As more consumers want to purchase sustainable, eco-friendly products, “greenwashing” is rising. This is where brands make false claims or are misleading with their environmental practices. They typically do this to gain an advantage over their competitors or 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.

When you come across what may be greenwashed advertising, be skeptical and conduct thorough online research before making a purchase. Remember the idiom, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Emily Onkey, Co-Founder and CMO, Aplós

9. Lack of Verifiable Information

A lack of verifiable information about the product or service indicates 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. Consumers should seek accurate and transparent information to make informed judgments and avoid possibly deceptive advertising strategies.

Rameez Usmani, Digital PR and Chief Marketing Officer, Solar Panel Installation

10. Clickbait

One red flag to watch out for is clickbait. These catchy headlines or phrases are designed to grab your attention and entice you to click on the ad or link. However, when you click through, the content may need to live up to the hype.

It’s a sneaky tactic some marketers use to generate traffic or leads, but it can be misleading and frustrating for consumers. So, if you come across an ad that seems too good to be true or promises unrealistic results, be cautious and do some research before taking any action. Don’t let clickbait fool you.

Johannes Larsson, Founder and CEO, JohannesLarsson.com

11. Over-edited Product Images

Product images must closely resemble what they look like in real life. However, many online listings are over-edited, giving consumers deceptive-looking products far from the quality they expect when they receive the item. This is especially true for clothes, shoes, bags, and other fabric items.

On the other hand, electronics, mechanical, and industrial products, such as actuators, sensors, and motion controllers without part numbers, brand logos, and seals, are likely fake. The item description may indicate “genuine” or “original,” but the images are edited to look legit.

Campbell Tourgis, VP, Sales and Marketing, Wainbee

12. Misleading Use of 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. If your dessert is made with chocolate, it could be mostly corn syrup. 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. Famous people who endorse brands will usually be featured using their products in images or videos. 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, Assisted Living Center

14. Recurrent Price Fluctuations

One prominent red flag to watch when examining marketing campaigns to detect false advertising is recurrent price fluctuations, discounts, or promotions without a clear and convincing rationale. Such irregularities can raise skepticism regarding the legitimacy of the presented offers.

An essential aspect of identifying false advertising is recognizing that credible marketing campaigns maintain a consistent approach to pricing and discount structures. When marketing materials undergo frequent alterations in these aspects without a transparent explanation, it becomes a conspicuous signal that the advertised deals may possess only partial reliability.

A discerning examination of the stability within pricing and discount mechanisms is an invaluable tool for consumers to detect false advertising within marketing campaigns.

Jeffrey Pitrak, Marketing Account Manager, Transient Specialists

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. It could be a free trial that sneaks into a paid subscription or a free product with crazy shipping fees. “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. They offer compensation for minimal effort, like making payments, recruiting others, or posting ads on obscure websites. It’s vital to spot these schemes to protect yourself and avoid getting into something messy.

Jonathan Merry, Founder, Moneyzine

16. False Advertisers Posing as Major Brands

In the e-commerce industry, false advertisers often try to pass as major brands. For example, they may post ads for an eye-catching 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, CEO and Co-Founder, Rush Order Tees

17. Exaggerated Product Comparisons

False advertising can include exaggerated product comparisons to 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. When comparing products, be wary of marketing materials that make inflated promises without supporting information.

Bruce Mohr, Vice-President, Fair Credit

18. Asterisks Leading to Fine Print

You spot an ad—”70% off diamond rings!”—and your heart leaps. It sounds too good to be true. Often, it is. That’s where the little asterisk comes in. Think of it as the plot twist in your favorite movie. You’re cruising along, enjoying the show, and then—boom!—everything changes.

The asterisk usually leads you to fine print, stashed away like a hidden clause in a 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.

My advice? Whenever you see an asterisk, go Sherlock Holmes on it. Investigate, read the fine print, and ask for clarification if needed. A genuinely awesome deal should be as clear and sparkling as a well-cut diamond, with no asterisk to cloud its brilliance.

Nikhil Jogia, Managing Director, Jogia Diamonds

Actionable Tips for Spotting False Advertising

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

Evaluate “Guaranteed Results”

  • Request case studies or statistical proof to support any “guaranteed” claims.
  • Be wary of extravagant promises; if something seems too good to be true, it often is.
  • Always read the fine print attached to any guarantee.

Demand Supporting Evidence for Claims

  • Look for data, customer testimonials, or credible endorsements.
  • An absence of concrete evidence is a clear warning sign.
  • Don’t rely on flashy headlines—dig deeper to find the facts.

Spot Fake Timers and Scarcity Tactics

  • Check timers on different devices or connections to see if they reset.
  • Fake urgency is often used to pressure consumers into making hasty decisions.
  • When in doubt, wait to see if the timer or scarcity tactic is real.

Check Customer Reviews

  • Research reviews on multiple platforms to get a fuller picture.
  • Check social media and forums like Reddit for uncensored opinions.
  • Be cautious when you find overwhelmingly negative reviews or complaints.

Be Skeptical of Vague Terminology

  • Watch for words like “revolutionary” and “scientifically proven.”
  • Request supporting documents like certificates or studies.
  • Lack of evidence to support vague claims is a clear red flag.

Watch for Hidden Costs

  • Read terms and conditions carefully, especially during the checkout process.
  • Be cautious of deals that seem unrealistically cheap—there might be hidden fees.
  • Transparency in pricing is a sign of a more trustworthy company.

Avoid Bait-and-Switch Tactics

  • Be skeptical of limited-time or limited-availability offers.
  • If the original product is unavailable, be cautious of upsells to more expensive items.
  • Bait-and-switch is often a violation of consumer protection laws.

Guard Against Greenwashing

  • Look for legitimate eco-certifications or detailed 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 Information

  • If a claim can’t be easily verified, be skeptical.
  • Transparency is key: The more open a company is, the more likely they are to be trustworthy.
  • Credible brands will offer easy access to supporting evidence or additional information.

Don’t Fall for Clickbait

  • Always do your homework before clicking through.
  • If the content doesn’t match the headline, steer clear.
  • Inaccurate or misleading headlines are often a sign of unreliable information.

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! 🛒