Clothing giant Old Navy is under fire in Washington for sending customers sales emails that falsely promoted limited-time-only discounts to generate consumer urgency. It turned out that the sales weren’t limited and there was no need to rush into the store to take advantage of exclusive time-sensitive offers.
Now, a class action lawsuit ensues. Here’s what to know and ways you can determine if an advertisement is genuine or likely to be a scam.
The Class Action Lawsuit
Consumers received emails that aggressively marketed a sale that was allegedly only going to be for a short amount of time, with images of ticking clocks counting down to the end of the sale.
The email described a “final opportunity” to get the discount, but customers received more emails the very next day advertising the same deal. The urgency created by Old Navy was artificial and ultimately, the offer amounted to false advertising.
Customers that received these emails have filed a class action lawsuit seeking $500 in statutory damages for each of the violations.
What the FTC Says About False Advertising
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hard on companies that engage in false advertising, prohibiting television, radio, and print media that contain misleading statements in an effort to persuade consumers to make a purchase.
If the Commission finds that a company has engaged in deceptive conduct, they can send a notice that requires the business to cease and desist. If they do not, the Commission can fine the company $50,120 per advertisement that was in violation of FTC statutes.
Violations of Washington State Law
The plaintiffs in the suit allege that Old Navy’s conduct also breached Washington state laws. The Washington Consumer Protection Act prohibits companies from engaging in any practice or action that can potentially deceive a large number of people, while the state’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act specifically forbids businesses from sending emails with deceptive or misleading subject lines.
How to Prove False Advertising in a Court of Law
If you were deceived by a false advertisement, you may also be able to seek compensation for any damages you incurred as a result. However, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proof and will need to bring forward compelling evidence that shows the following:
- The advertisement was demonstrably false
- The claim was material, meaning the lie was about something significant
- You directly watched, read, or heard the advertisement
- You were influenced to make a purchase or complete a different action as advertised
- Most other people who saw the ad would also have been reasonably influenced by the company’s claims
- You suffered financial harm as a result of the purchase
Each of these elements will need to be proven and you will also need to provide records of the damages you sustained. For example, if you took $600 out of your savings account to purchase goods that were allegedly only on sale for a limited time, and then found out that the goods could be purchased anytime and were widely available, you may be able to obtain compensation.
Other Forms of False Advertising
The Federal Trade Commission also prohibits businesses from engaging in other forms of false advertising to consumers, like:
- Bait and switch It’s against the law for a company to offer one thing and then tell customers who are interested in the offer that it’s actually for something else other than what was advertised.
- Hidden fees. Businesses aren’t allowed to tack on fees and then obscure them from the consumer during the purchase. All fees must be clearly stated up front and outlined in the purchase agreement.
- Failure to disclose. Companies have a legal responsibility to disclose the ingredients of their products, especially if any of those ingredients can be considered harmful. These should be clearly printed on product labels where they can be seen and understood by the average person.
- Comparative advertising. Companies can’t directly name a competitor or their product or service in an ad for the specific purpose of illustrating how their product is better than the competitor’s.
Generally, most deceptive advertising and marketing practices aren’t allowed. However, it usually takes a great deal of money, time, and effort to hold companies engaging in false advertisement responsible.
If you were duped by a false advertisement, you need qualified legal support. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, our experienced consumer protection lawyers can help determine if you have a solid case. Contact us now for your free initial consultation by dialing (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.