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False advertising in Georgia: Understanding the boundaries

Marketing is at the foundation of many successful businesses. Whether you make use of TV ads and billboards, online listings and newspaper spreads, or simply word of mouth based on a solid reputation, marketing is what sustains and grows your business.

Direct advertising may be a cornerstone of your marketing plan. Countless considerations go into making a good advertisement: the imagery, design, copy and choice of media, to start. Yet even the most compelling ad can land your business in trouble if it runs afoul of the law.

Staying within the limits

Georgia law - specifically, the Fair Business Practices Act - sets limits on just how far advertisements can go. It prohibits:

  • Using "bait and switch" tactics (that is, advertising something you don't intend to actually sell as advertised)
  • Making false or misleading statements about quality, specifications, certifications or seals of approval
  • Advertising goods when you don't have enough to meet the demand (unless you specify that quantities are limited)
  • Misrepresenting sale prices (for example, characterizing a sales price as "50 percent off" when it's really not)
  • Giving false or misleading reasons for sale prices (such as advertising a going-out-of-business sale when you're not actually closing up shop)
  • Disparaging competitors with false or misleading statements
  • Failing to disclose the true business ownership in a liquidation, auction or going-out-of-business sale
  • Misrepresenting the nature of your business (for example, implying you're a wholesaler or manufacturer when you're really not)

These limits are designed to protect consumers from misleading ads. They also level the playing field for fair competition. Some industries - such as legal and automotive - are subject to even stricter standards for advertising.

What are the penalties?

False advertising violations are not only misdemeanors, but can also lead to significant statutory penalties, general damages, and - in cases of intentional violations - exemplary damages and attorney fees. As you can see, it's well worth it to make sure your ads are securely within boundaries of the law.

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