6 Cases of Shamelessly False Advertising

Diy13, istock/getty images plus
Diy13, istock/getty images plus

Sometimes false advertising is easy to spot. Statements like "Lose 20 pounds in 5 days" or "Make $1 million a month while sitting at home" seem to choke on their own incredulity, but sometimes marketers employ a little more finesse to bamboozle you. Here are six examples of shamelessly false advertising that weren't just implicitly misleading, they were blatant lies!

1. Listerine as a Cure-All

Listerine was the first over-the counter mouthwash sold in the United States in 1914 and by 1921 it was already falsely marketing its product. Declaring itself a cure-all for common cold ailments like sore throats and coughs, a dandruff preventative, an anti-shave tonic, and a safe way to protect yourself from cuts, bruises, wounds, and stings, Listerine was slapped with numerous false advertisement lawsuits. In 1975, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the company to spend $10 million in corrective advertising, seeing as their product was no more effective in treating colds than gargling warm water. Even then, the mouthwash giant didn't really learn their lesson. In 2005, the company was slapped with another lawsuit. This time because Listerine claimed it was as "effective as floss" after rigging clinical trials.

2. Lydia Pickham's Vegetable Compound (Great for boozy housewives!)

Touted as one of the world's first successful businesswomen, Lydia Pickham exploited her reputation as a local medicine woman to propel her herbal remedy into a commercial success, eventually grossing almost $400,000 yearly. The remedy claimed to cure all womanly ailments and weaknesses and sold for $1 a bottle. What was in the herbal remedy? Turns out, it contained less than 1% solid substance from vegetable extracts and almost 20% alcohol. If a woman took the suggested 1 tablespoon, every 2-4 hours, she will have consumed 5 ounces of 13.5% or higher alcohol by the end of the day- more than enough for a healthy buzz that made life seem a bit more cheery to boozy housewives. When the Federal Trade Commission tightened its laws on claims made by medicines, Lydia Pickham's Vegetable Compound had to swallow the restrictions with a spoonful of sugar.

3. Crystal Clear Amoco Gasoline: Good, Clean Fun

In 1996, the Amoco Oil Company agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission charge that its "Crystal Clear Amoco Ultimate" advertised unsubstantiated claims. The premium gasoline, because of its clear color, boasted superior engine performance and environmental benefits. The fact is, at the time the country was going through a clear revolution. Pepsi had gone clear (Crystal clear, in fact!). Clearly Canadian was dominating shelves. And Amoco, which had for years made a clear colored fuel, decided to capitalize on the trend. Unfortunately, they had no factual evidence to substantiate their "better for the environment and your engine" claims, and the company was forced to curb their campaign.

4. Dr. Koch's Cure All

Starting in 1919, Dr. William Frederick Koch bottled and marketed a cancer, infection, and allergy cure-all with the help of his brother Louis. His drug glyoxylide, which he claimed cured "practically all human ills, including . . . tuberculosis" sold for $25 (1948 price) in local drug stores. The FDA had always been suspicious of the doctor, but not until they tested the drug in 1948 and found it contained nothing more than distilled water were their suspicions confirmed. And what proved to be more appalling, they discovered that Dr. Koch had been treating cancer patients by telling them to detox with the aid of enemas and fresh fruit and vegetable juices, taking only the smallest doses of painkillers. Unfortunately, despite all of his patients dying enough evidence was never found to present a viable case against him, and Dr. Koch moved to Rio de Janeiro in the late 1940s.

5. Airborne Gets a Flunking Grade

"It's the one designed by the school teacher!" Airborne, which entered the market 10 years ago first claimed to prevent colds, then claimed to boost your immune system, and is now claiming a federal lawsuit. In March of this year, Airborne settled a lawsuit in which it agreed to pay over $23 million in fines for false advertising. David Schardt, who spearheaded the lawsuit against Airborne says there is no factual evidence to back the companies claims, amounting Airborne to a placebo and advising people fighting colds to simply take a Vitamin C pill.

6. The Trick Wedding straight from Mickey Blue Eyes

We know this one isn't a product, but the story was so good we had to include it. In September 1990, a group of drug crime suspects in Corunna, Michigan, received an invitation to a wedding from a well"“known drug dealer in the area. Attendees were asked to check their guns at the entrance, apparently a common occurrence at these events. As part of a five-month undercover investigation, the police staged and advertised a wedding on a Friday night, figuring it was easier to make drug suspects come to them than to round them up. The groom was an undercover investigator, the bride a Flint police officer, and the bride's father (and reputed crime boss) was the police chief. That evening, after the vows, the toasts, and the dancing, the band, called SPOC, or COPS spelled backward, played "Fought the Law," setting off the cue for the evening's real agenda. All the police officers were then asked to stand, and those who remained seated were arrested. A dozen suspects were booked and, by Saturday afternoon, 16 were in custody.

With research assistance from Megan McGinn and mental_floss presents Forbidden Knowledge.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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9 Things Invented By Accident

These sugary summer treats were an accidental invention.
These sugary summer treats were an accidental invention.
Daniel Öberg, Unsplash

Not every great invention was created according to plan. Some, in fact, were the result of a happy accident. In November 2020, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced that the COVID-19 vaccine it had developed in partnership with Oxford University was 90 percent effective when administered in a dosing regimen they had discovered thanks to some “serendipity.” This wasn't the only unintentional discovery in history, of course. From penicillin to artificial sweeteners, all nine of the everyday items below were invented entirely by accident.

1. Penicillin

On September 28, 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered that a petri dish of staphylococcus bacteria that had been inadvertently left out on the windowsill of his London laboratory had become contaminated by a greenish-colored mold—and encircling the mold was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth. After taking a sample and developing a culture, Fleming discovered that the mold was a member of the Penicillium genus, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2. Corn Flakes

The two Kellogg brothers—Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother (and former broom salesman) Will Keith Kellogg—worked at Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, where John was physician-in-chief. Both were strict Seventh-day Adventists, who used their work at the sanitarium to promote the austere dietary and moralist principles of their religion (including strict vegetarianism and a lifelong restraint from excessive sex and alcohol) and to carry out research into nutrition, and the impact of diet on their patients. It was during one of these experiments in 1894 that, while in the process of making dough from boiled wheat, one of the Kelloggs left the mash to dry for too long and when it came time to be rolled out, it splintered into dozens of individual flakes. Curious as to what these flakes tasted like, he baked them in the oven—and in the process, produced a cereal called Granose. Some later tinkering switched out the wheat for corn, and gave us corn flakes.

3. Teflon

Polytetrafluoroethylene—better known as PTFE, or Teflon—was invented by accident at a DuPont laboratory in New Jersey in 1938. Roy Plunkett, an Ohio-born chemist, was attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant when he noticed that a canister of tetrafluoroethylene, despite appearing to be empty, weighed as much as if it were full. Cutting the canister open with a saw, Plunkett found that the gas had reacted with the iron in the canister’s shell and had coated its insides with polymerized polytetrafluoroethylene—a waxy, water-repellent, non-stick substance. Du Pont soon saw the potential of Plunkett’s discovery and began mass producing PTFE, but it wasn’t until 1954, when the wife of French engineer Marc Grégoire asked her husband to use the same substance to coat her cookware to stop food sticking to her pans, that the true usefulness of Plunkett’s discovery was finally realized.

4. Slinky

In 1943, naval engineer Richard T. James was working at a shipyard in Philadelphia when he accidentally knocked a spring (that he had been trying to modify into a stabilizer for sensitive maritime equipment) from a high shelf. To his surprise, the spring neatly uncoiled itself and stepped its way down from the shelf and onto a pile of books, and from there onto a tabletop, and then onto the floor. After two years of development, the first batch of 400 “Slinky” toys sold out in just 90 minutes when they were demonstrated in the toy department of a local Gimbels store in 1945.

5. Silly Putty

At the height of World War II, rubber was rationed across the United States after Japan invaded a number of rubber-producing countries across southeast Asia and hampered production. The race was on to find a suitable replacement—a synthetic rubber that could be produced inside the U.S. without the need of overseas imports, which eventually led to the entirely unexpected invention of Silly Putty. There are at least two rival claims to the invention of Silly Putty (chiefly from chemist Earl L. Warrick and Scottish-born engineer James Wright), both of whom found that mixing boric acid with silicone oil produced a stretchy, bouncy rubber-like substance that also had the unusual ability of leaching newspaper print from a page (an ability that changing technology has now eliminated).

6. Post-It Notes

Pexels, Pixabay

In 1968, a 3M chemist named Dr. Spencer Silver was attempting to create a super-strong adhesive when instead he accidentally invented a super-weak adhesive, which could be used to only temporarily stick things together. The seemingly limited application of Silver’s product meant that it sat unused at 3M (then technically known as Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing) for another five years, until, in 1973, a colleague named Art Fry attended one of Silver’s seminars and struck upon the idea that his impermanent glue could be used to stick bookmarks into the pages of his hymnbook. It took another few years for 3M to be convinced both of Fry and Silver’s idea and of the salability of their product, but eventually they came up with a unique design that worked perfectly: a thin film of Spencer’s adhesive was applied along just one edge of a piece of paper. After a failed test-market push in 1977 as Press ’N Peel, the product went national as the Post-It note in 1980.

7. Saccharin

In 1878 or '79 (sources differ), Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist studying the properties of oxidized coal tar at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, discoveredwhile eating his meal one evening that food he picked up with this fingers tasted sweeter than normal. He traced the sweetening effect back to the chemical he had been working with that day (Ortho-sulfobenzoic Acid Imide, no less) and, noting its potential salability, quickly set up a business mass producing his sweetener under the name Saccharin. Although quickly popular (and equally quickly controversial), it would take the sugar shortages of two World Wars to make the discovery truly universal.

8. Popsicles

The first popsicle was reportedly invented by 11-year-old Frank Epperson in 1905, when he accidentally left a container of powdered soda and water, with its mixing stick still inside, on his porch overnight. One unexpectedly cold night later, and the popsicle—which Epperson originally marketed 20 years later as an Epsicle—was born.

9. Safety glass

Safety glass—or rather, laminated glass—was accidentally discovered by the French chemist Édouard Bénédictus when he knocked a glass beaker from a high shelf in his laboratory and found, to his surprise, that it shattered but did not break. His assistant informed him that the beaker had contained cellulose nitrate, a type of clear natural plastic, that had left a film on the inside of the glass. He filed a patent for his discovery in 1909, and it has been in production (albeit in various different forms) ever since.