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The Four Different Purposes of Advertising And Common Myths and Half-Truths in Deceptive Advertising

The Four Different Purposes of Advertising

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  1. Direct Response Advertising: Also referred to as "direct marketing," this type of marketing seeks a direct behavioral response like an immediate call or purchase. An aggressive infomercial that implores consumers to "CALL NOW!" is one example of direct response advertising.
  2. Brand or Image Advertising: This form of advertising seeks to subtly define and reinforce a brand in consumers' minds to affect consumers' future decisions. The relentless stream of GEICO insurance commercials is an example. Nike's "Just Do it" slogan exemplifies image advertising. Another example of a slogan that represents image advertising would be "GE brings good things to life."
  3. Informational Advertising: This type of advertising communicates information about a product or service. An example would be a grocery store circular displaying product specifications, availability, and price.
  4. Ideological or Issue Advertising: A product or service can meet consumers' ideological values or ideals. For example, meat suppliers who claim that the animals used for meat were "humanely raised" or sustainably raised" could appeal to consumers who are sensitive to animal welfare and environmental protection. It wasn't too long ago that tobacco companies claimed that their cigarettes touted "freedom" as an attribute of their cigarettes. There exist a myriad of ways that companies can advertise ideologies or issues in ways that affect consumer decision-making.

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Myths and Half-Truths In False Advertising

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We are awash in advertising, and without realizing it, companies influence our purchasing decisions through express and implied claims. Ads should clearly and conspicuously disclose their claims so we can make reasonably informed choices. Unfortunately, through marketing manipulation, companies can effectively convey myths, half-truths, and falsities that lead to actionable misrepresentations (grounds for a lawsuit).

Below are some common myths and half-truths. "substantiation" refers to tests, surveys, or other evidence of the advertising claims' truthfulness.

  1. 1-Plus-1-Equals-11 Myth: This type of advertising claims cites a limited number of favorable studies that a) contain design flaws ( i.e., not randomized and controlled); b) omit unfavorable or contradictory studies; or c) were performed by persons who had the incentive to reach a particular outcome (i.e., by the person selling the thing being studied). The objectivity of studies is crucial for reliability. We must pay particular attention to the broadness of the advertising claim and whether the studies support the asserted claims.
  2. Unrepresentative-Study Myth: In the realm of weight-loss advertising—for example—marketers may sneakily make claims using studies in which only a limited number of people participated. For instance, NordicTrack made claims about the percentage of purchasers of its cross-country ski exerciser who lost weight using that device. NordicTrack failed to disclose to the public that its study participants were consumers who completed a rigorous twelve-week exercise program that nearly half the participants failed to complete. The studies also failed to account for changes in the participants' dietary lifestyles. Health-product companies must substantiate weight-loss claims because they are health claims. Substantiation requires competent and reliable scientific evidence.
  3. Testimonials-are-Substantiation Myth: A typical example would be an infomercial conducted by a celebrity who endorsed a product. Consumer testimonials, whether by letter, video, or even affidavit, do not substantiate health claims. But the Federal Trade Commission will consider testimonials when assessing injuries caused by a deceptively advertised product or service. Expert endorsers, such as doctors or nutritionists, require even more substantiation. The "expert" must be an expert who is basing a testimonial on evaluations of, or tests conducted by, other experts in the field that would support the expert's conclusions.
  4. Endorsers-are-Typical Myth: Anybody endorsing a product or service must relay their truthful experience, opinions, or findings. The endorser's experience must be typical (representative) of the results or experience that consumers can generally expect to achieve. A disclosure must be displayed if the endorser's experience is not typical.
  5. A Disclosure-Cures-a-Deceptive-Claim Myth: Disclosures that contradict language elsewhere render the claim's net impression deceptive. In other words, an *asterisk disclosure cannot fix a deceptive net impression. Asterisk disclosures are often too small to read.
  6. "Results-May-Vary" Myth: Flashing a "results-may-vary" disclosure will not magically substantiate an unsubstantiated advertising claim.
  7. Diet-Supplement-Ads-Don't-Need-Substantiation Myth: Like other consumer products, dietary supplements must meet substantiation obligations. Both the FDA and the FTC regulate claims for dietary supplements. The FDA is responsible for label claims, and the FTC is supposed to protect consumers from deception. Under the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, the FDA preapproves health claims on supplement labels under a "significant scientific agreement" standard. This Act exempts from FDA preapproval label claims about "nutritional support," which are claims about the structure and function of the human body. Substantiation is necessary to ensure that labels are "truthful and not misleading."
  8. Substantiation-Does-Not-Apply-to-Internet Myth: The FTC's advertising standards are the same on the internet. Whether claims relate to food, credit repair, loans, or exercise equipment, the vastness of the internet does not immunize businesses from substantiation obligations.

If you were duped by advertising, contact us to discuss it.