Everybody knows you can’t always believe everything you read. That old phrase could not be more true when it comes to advertising claims. Companies pushing products are usually more than ready to stretch the truth as far as they can, and then a little more.

As a result, certain words and phrases have become a regular part of the advertising vocabulary. But what is the truth behind these well-known claims? A little digging reveals that a lot of the phrases should be taken with a boulder of salt.

The Genuine Truth About “Genuine Leather”

Have you ever been lured into a leather shop by the sumptuous smell of hide and seen signs promoting genuine leather boots or a genuine leather messenger bag? Sure it’s a little pricey, but isn’t it worth it to have a genuine leather product?

It could be, except that genuine leather is not exactly the high quality product many are led to believe. Genuine leather is actually the name used for the lowest quality of real leather products. A genuine leather product is one that is made by pressing together a number of layers of low quality leather, sticking them together with adhesive, and adding some nice leather-looking paint for a better exterior aesthetic.

If you’re looking for higher quality leather you should be looking for top-grain leather, which is a finer quality than genuine leather and comes from a leather hide that has been sanded down and treated for a homogenous leather appearance.

The best quality leather is full-grain leather, which is usually the complete hide that you’ll see used for boots, belts, bags, briefcases, and the occasional Smith & Wesson holster.

“Natural” Food Is Nebulously Defined

Many people have the worthy goal of eating healthier—seeking out food that is less processed, uses fewer chemicals, and comes about as close to fresh off the farm as possible. So it makes sense that people would be drawn to “natural” or “all-natural” items at the grocery store. But what does it mean when you see that a brand of oatmeal or cheese proclaims itself all-natural?

Very little, it turns out. The FDA currently has no guidelines for food companies who want to advertise their food as natural. Consumer Reports selected a handful of supermarket food items that are identified as "natural" and found numerous examples of ingredients that could hardly be found in nature: cellulose powder in Kraft Natural Cheese, sodium benzoate in Del Monte Fruit Naturals, and Xanthan gum in all-natural Alexia Sweet Potato Fries, just to name a few.

The FDA recently asked for public comments on what citizens think the organization should do in terms of defining what natural should mean for consumers going forward. This could bring the "natural" label into the same class as "organic," a label that does have a specific definition from the USDA.

How Much Science Is in a Scientifically Proven Claim?

Advertisers love to trot out the impressive stamp of a vaguely defined scientific community and say that their product is “proven” to do some wondrous thing, usually the improving of one’s health or assisting in the always tenacious weight loss war. One of the most prominent examples of this is Sensa, a weight loss product from some years ago that claimed it was “clinically proven to help people lose an average of 30 pounds in six months without dieting or exercise.”

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint, saying that Sensa claimed its powder could be sprinkled on food and make customers feel fuller, causing them to eat less and lose weight without any other dieting or exercise. “The defendants,” the FTC complaint said, “did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support these claims.” Sensa eventually ended up settling in court, though it maintained that the settlement did not constitute an admission of guilt.

A similar situation occurred with Dannon yogurt. The company claimed that its Activa brand yogurt (hey, Jamie Lee Curtis!) could help with digestive issues, specifically the lower intestinal feeling of being “backed up.” The problem is that claiming to treat something that is technically classified as a disease requires FDA approval.

Further investigations reveal that Dannon’s studies were inconclusive or, as a Dannon spokesman put it: “It’s not a scientific study.” A class action suit was filed in California and Dannon ended up paying over $35 million to customers who were affected. It was the largest ever settlement for false advertising from a food product.

With these two brands settling, but new products claiming their own science all the time, it’s likely wise to consider any scientifically proven claims that come from a product’s advertising with very skeptical eyes.

The Whole Story Behind Cruelty-Free Products

For years, many beauty and hygiene products have advertised themselves as cruelty-free and promise consumers they don't test their products on animals. Many of these companies are genuine in their claims, but some larger companies aren’t giving consumers the whole story.

Large companies who want to sell their products in China will still engage in animal testing because China actually requires animal testing to allow products to be sold there. As a result, major makeup companies like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Shiseido, and Proctor & Gamble have all allowed animal testing to occur on their watch in order to allow their products to be sold in China.

This economic reality led to the filing of a class action lawsuit against Estee Lauder, Avon Products, and Mary Kay alleging that these companies claimed that their products were not being tested on animals when they were fully aware of animal testing going on in order to sell in the Chinese market. Though a judge threw the lawsuit out, saying there was not a “particularized injury,” the filing brought the animal testing of these big firms to the attention of the public. Peta2 maintains a comprehensive database of brands that don’t test on animals, here or abroad.

Some Broadband Internet Speeds Should Come With an Asterisk

Perhaps not since Domino's promised pizzas delivered in 30 minutes or less has there been such a focus on speediness in advertising than the blitz from broadband companies who claim they have the most lightning fast internet in all the land. Companies have promised the fastest internet speed around and often toss out numbers (16Mb, 38Mb, 76Mb!) to wow customers into switching into their lane of the information superhighway.

But are they always delivering on their hyper speed claims? Not quite. In the UK, it was revealed that broadband companies can advertise their fastest speeds even if they are only available to just 10 percent of their customers. These speeds—the “Up To” speeds that proclaimed the maximum download speeds available—are enjoyed only by a select few.

Instead, most companies are dealing with average download speeds that significantly drop off from the “Up To” speeds. Essentially, what these companies are doing is the same as selling cars that could go up to 100 mph, even if the car you bought couldn’t get past 75 mph.

New scrutiny from the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority have forced internet providers to be more upfront with the speeds they can provide. The UK Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, said that the past standards of what companies could advertise were “a complete and utter joke.” New standards focus on informing customers what download times would be during peak times for a wider swath of broadband users.

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