Damage Control: Limiting the Fall-Out from Deceptive Advertising

Katherine L. Twomey, John G. Knight and Lisa S. McNeill

Otago University


Deceptive advertising typically generates a highly adverse public reaction (Fry and McDougall, 1974; Greyser and Bauer, 1966). In this article, the authors examine how highly respected company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) attempted to recover from humiliation caused by two 14-year-old schoolgirls whose science-fair project revealed that GSK’s television advertisements were deceptive. The authors discuss how GSK faced the dilemma by attempting to recover trust with a televised apology, and they derive lessons for practitioners in the context of previous findings relating to deception.

A “deceptive” advertisement has been defined as “one that creates a false or incorrect belief about the product” (Olson and Dover, 1978, p. 29). In 1975, Gardner (1975) proposed three categories of deception:

  • “Unconscionable lies” (where an advertisement makes a claim that is completely false)
  • “Claim-fact discrepancies” (where some qualification must be placed upon a claim for it to be understood properly and evaluated)
  • “Claim-belief interactions” (where an advertisement interacts with the accumulated attitudes and beliefs of a consumer in such a manner as to leave a deceptive belief or attitude without making either explicit or implied deceptive claims).