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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 as a way of affecting consumers' future decisions. The relentless stream of GEICO insurance commercials is an example. Nike's "Just Do it" is a slogan exemplifying 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. This web page outlining the four different purposes of advertising could be considered informational advertising.
  4. Ideological or Issue Advertising: A product or service can meet a consumer's 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.

Myths and Half-Truths In False Advertising

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We are awash in advertising, and without realizing it, our purchasing decisions are influenced by express and implied claims in the advertising. Ads should clearly and conspicuously make their claims disclosed so we can make reasonably informed choices. Through marketing manipulation, unfortunately, companies can be effective at conveying myths, half-truths, and falsities that lead to actionable misrepresentations (grounds for a lawsuit).

Some common myths and half-truths are reported below. They are reflected in a public statement on the website of the Federal Trade Commission. The word "substantiation" used below 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 an incentive to reach a particular outcome (i.e. by the person selling the thing being studied). The objectivity of studies is obviously crucial for reliability. We need to pay particular attention to the broadness of the advertising claim, and whether the studies actually support the claims being made.
  2. Unrepresentative-Study Myth: In the realm of weight-loss advertising—which I find almost as disheartening as "humane-washing"—marketers may sneakily make claims according to a study that only a limited number people participated in. For example, NordicTrack made claims about the percentage of purchasers of its cross-country ski exerciser who lost weight using that device. NordicTrack also made claims about the amount of weight they lost, how long they maintained their weight loss, and how much exercise was needed to achieve "eighteen pounds in twelve weeks." What NordicTrack failed to disclose to the public was that its study participants were reported by 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. Worth noting is that weight-loss claims are health claims that must be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
  3. Testimonials-are-Substantiation Myth: A typical example would be in infomercial conducted by a celebrity who endorsed a product. Also, testimonials by consumers, whether by letter, video, or even affidavit, are not substantiation, especially with regard to 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 actually 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. If the endorser's experience is not substantiated as typical, then there must exist a clear disclosure of the generally expected results for users, or a disclosure as to the endorser's limited experience.
  5. A Disclosure-Cures-a-Deceptive-Claim Myth: Disclosures that flatly contradict a deceptive ad elsewhere renders the net impression of the claim deceptive. In other words, an *asterisk disclosure (common in meat and poultry) cannot render a deceptive impression magically non-deceptive. Many times, the asterisk disclosure is so small and removed from the deceptive claims, consumers cannot even see them.
  6. "Results-May-Vary" Myth: Flashing a "results-may-vary" disclosure will not magically substantiate an advertising claim that is facially deceptive and cannot be substantiated.
  7. Diet-Supplement-Ads-Don't-Need-Substantiation Myth: Like any other products sold to consumers, 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. But this exemption still requires substantiation for nutritional claims relating to "structure" and "function" of the 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 suspect that you've been duped by advertising, contact us to discuss it. Or complete this questionnaire if the advertisement related to an animal product.