The problem is that "Simply American" suggests Almay's beauty products are made domestically, said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising.org, a nonprofit organization. While a company spokeswoman says nearly 90 percent of Almay products, including makeup remover, are American made, other products are made in China, the Czech Republic, Germany and Canada. Truth In Advertising.org has complained to the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General's Office about what it says are Almay's false claims.
To be fair, the Revlon-owned Almay brand does not appear to have violated labeling requirements, and it is diligent about labeling the origins of its products. Beyond the ad campaign, Almay packaging details which specific countries the products are made including components' origins.
But using a broad definition of "American" can often run the risk of raising red flags.
Blogger Wagner said she recently saw a set of American flags for sale with the label language, "Proudly 'Made in USA,' assembled in China." What does that even mean?
"The Almay Simply American campaign captures the essence of the 'American Beauty Look,' which is simple, luminous and fresh faced," according to Revlon, in a statement emailed to CNBC.com. "Simply American does not imply, nor intend to imply, made in the USA."
But Truth In Advertising.org's Patten argues false-packaging claims hurt the efforts of companies that do make "Made in USA" a top priority. "Patriotism is a great marketing tool," she said. "Consumers are more likely to buy products marketed as made in the U.S. and are willing to spend more money."
Read More'Made in China' becoming increasingly 'Made in USA'
Companies large and small have discovered the potential in showcasing a product's evolution, including its manufacturing origins.
Apple's iPhone is designed by Apple in California, and assembled in China.
Retail catalogs and e-commerce sites feature lengthy product descriptions. Artisanal, one-of-a-kind backpacks and canoes made from regional materials and decades-old craftsmen traditions. Words like "heritage" and "authentic" come up a lot.
Such language in part implies that the goods generate American manufacturing jobs. In recent years, the narrowing labor cost gap between the U.S. and other countries including China, and cheaper energy prices have helped support American manufacturing. Especially after the Great Recession, more Americans began connecting the dots that foreign-made goods—piled high in big box-store carts—equals fewer U.S. jobs.