We all watch TV Commercials every day and many of us may have become ‘numb’ to the constant “buy this!”, “Lose 100 pounds overnight!” and the constant barrage of advertising. Many people simply don’t pay attention to these commercials anymore while others just mash the “FF” button on their DVR or TIVO remote control. But what happens when you are misled, lied-to, or tricked by one of these commercials? Who do you complain to? Who is responsible and oversees TV commercials and advertising laws in the United States?
Who is responsible for TV commercials?
Many people assume that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) governs and oversees TV commercials, but this is only partially correct. The FCC oversees TV and radio stations in regard to laws that relate broadcasting. For example it violates federal law to broadcast obscene material or TV commercials for cigarettes. When this type of violation is reported to the FCC they may levy fines or even prosecute the responsible parties (a specific TV station owner or advertiser for example) resulting in jail time. For information about reporting a TV commercial or broadcaster/TV station that might be violating this type of law, please see the FCC.GOV website.
Who oversees Truth in Advertising and deceptive or lying TV commercials?
It is the responsibility of each broadcaster (TV or radio station, or TV network) to ensure that whatever they put on the air, including TV commercials is honest, accurate, and true but as we have probably all seen, sometimes a TV commercial can still cross the line by being deceptive. In cases such as this where a commercial or advertisement is not obscene or violate any laws that would fall under the FCC, it is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that is responsible for determining if the advertisement is misleading or false. If the FTC steps in and determines that there has been deception in a commercial or that a commercial is untrue or misleading, they may require that the ad be corrected/updated or force the advertisements to stop altogether.
Unfortunately the FTC does not actively seek out false or misleading TV or radio commercials and relies on the public to report them for action.
How to report a deceptive commercial or advertisement
If you have seen a TV commercial that you feel is deceptive, misleading or false, you can file a complaint and report it to the FTC at their online “Complaint Assistant” here: Submit a complaint to the FTC