Misleading Advertising in PNG – Consumers Can Do Something About It

  • Have you ever seen an advertisement promising you this and that and then feel disappointed after buying and using the product only to find out you got less value than what was promised in the ad

    Say for example, a mobile company promises you in an advertisement that you get an X discount on data rates “All night long“. You then buy the relevant bundle only to find out that the discount was only for an hour and not “All night long” as promised.  Is this a situation of unfair advertising by the mobile company?  If so, what can you do about it?

    The situation in PNG

    The reality in PNG is that those who complain about being duped or conned by the ad is to vent their frustrations to friends and relatives and rant on Facebook.  This doesn’t really do much help in so far as consumer protection is concerned because the fact is, those company’s who engage in misleading advertising won’t give a damn if they’re still making money and the ignorant consumers continue to fall for it and do nothing.

    Does PNG have consumer protection laws?

    Did you know that it’s an offence for a person or company to publish or cause to be published any unfair statement in any commercial advertisement?  If you didn’t know, you do now!

    There’s a little old legislation in Papua New Guinea that covers unfair statements in advertisements which is called Commercial Advertisement (Protection of the Public) Act.  This law doesn’t really get the attention it deserves and considering the law pretty much applies to the entire public, you have to wonder why authorities aren’t doing enough awareness to educate consumers on their rights when it comes to unfair or misleading advertisements.

    Unfair Statement under this Act means a statement or representation contained in an advertisement that is untrue, inaccurate, misleading, mis-representative or unreasonable in describing the size, quality, quantity or nature of goods or services in a material particular or a material way.

    Papua New Guinea doesn’t have an extensive legislation that covers this area but nonetheless a law is in place to protect consumers and the principle on misleading advertising is the same.  Consumers must know and act on it.

    For advertisers, there are grounds for defence against claims for unfair statements under the Act.  These are:

    • the statement or representation complained of is not an unfair statement
    • that the statement was not likely to deceive or mislead the complainant

    There are also a class or category of people who are excused from the prohibition of unfair statements in commercial advertisements.  These are:

    • an owner, publisher or printer of any newspaper, publication, periodical or circular
    • an owner of any radio or television station
    • advertising agent
    • newsagent or bookseller
    • a servant, employee or agent of any of the persons referred to above

    Similar situations overseas

    Although not in PNG, here are some examples of misleading or unfair statements that have put the advertisers in hot water and dish out big money as compensation:

    1. “Lasts Even Longer” – This was a phrase used in the packaging of Duracell’s battery products. Duracell got sued in US by customers claiming that the companies were engaging in deceptive marketing and misleading facts.  In short, the concerned Duracell products were more expensive than regular batteries but did not in fact provide longer life than regular alkaline batteries.
    2. The makers of the popular Nutella spread got sued for misleading advertising too. They claimed in their advertising campaign that Nutella is healthier than actually is and it “was a good for you treat.”  Ferrero, Nutella’s maker has had to pay a substantial amount to consumers for the misleading statement!

    So, what can you as a consumer do about misleading advertising?

    You can complain – that’s natural.  But that doesn’t provide a meaningful step towards resolving the critical issue.  You could see a lawyer about it but how many of us have the kind of money to pay for legal fees?

    The least you can do is contact the Independent Consumer & Competition Commission who are responsible for the administration of this Act.  They are able to act on complaints made by consumers in this area and can do the investigations too.  If you can lay a complaint, you are doing the public a huge favor in terms of protecting them from unfair or misleading advertising.

    Please note that the above is only for information purposes and should not be considered as legal advice.

    About the Author

    Mea Vai, is a lawyer with close to 20 years practicing experience predominantly in intellectual property, marketing & advertising and general commercial law.  Mea is admitted to practice law in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia (Queensland) and is the Principal of Vai IP, a law firm specializing in intellectual property law and consultancy. Email: mea@vaiiplawyers.com Website : www.vaiiplawyers.com

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