In a world where advertising is more and more competitive, advertisers will stoop very low to get a bigger piece of the market. Although there are laws that protect the public from being lied to by advertisers, there are loopholes that advertisers use to deceive the public.

Product Significant Claims vs. Brand Significant Claims

Product Significant Claims (PSC) highlight features of the product. For example battery watches are better than winding watches because battery watches don’t need winding. It favours no brand over another.

Brand Significant Claims (BSC) highlight features of a brand of product over even just the brand. An example of highlighting just a brand with no product is the Nike advertising campaign. This campaign does not highlight a specific product like a shoe or shirt, but the Nike brand itself. There is a slippery slope to BSC’s, a progressive path to deceiving the public more and more.

Selected Facts

These are facts that are true, but not necessarily valuable. These advertisements include positive facts about their product and leave out neutral or negative facts. When talking about the competitor’s product, they only include negative facts, leaving out neutral or positive aspects of that brand. An example of this would be an advertisement for a gas stove. The ad shows spaghetti cooking on an electric stove and also cooking on a gas stove. The ad shows the pots boiling over. On the gas stove, the heat is turned down and the water immediately stops boiling over. On the electric stove, the heat is turned down, but it takes a bit longer for the water to stop boiling over. After, the pot that was on the electric stove has the spaghetti stuck to the inside making it hard to clean up, while the pot on the gas stove does not. The ad fails to include that electric stoves distribute the heat more evenly, and are often more reliable. It includes only the negative aspects of electric stoves, and does not mention the positive aspects of it. It includes only the positive aspects of gas stoves, and leaves out the negative ones.

Minimal Facts

These facts point out peripheral features of a certain brand or product. The features are not central to the main function of the product. This could be an advertisement for a certain type of curling iron. The curling iron has 27 different heat settings. However, how often does one use all the settings? Does this fact make it much better than a curling iron that only has 24 settings? Although the functionality may be different, it does not contribute in a large way. There are three types of minimal facts: physical differences (such as the curling iron), performance differences (a 4-wheel drive truck can perform over rocky terrain, but how often does a driver do that?) and performance difference (both brands of products have a feature, but one brand is the first to promote that feature).

Non Facts

These are evaluations or opinions that do not have any obvious significance as a claim. Advertisers use these for two reasons: they construct associations for the audience – we hear a word, such as “real” and associated with “Coca-Cola”, and we assume that that means something, but really what does it mean in Coke’s slogan “the real thing”? It has no obvious significance. The other reason for using nonfacts is that they cause the audience to draw implications. We assume products aren’t the same, and advertisers hope we think a certain association appeals to their product. For example, only Coke is “the real thing”.

Implications in Language

This is the said and unsaid, there is always stuff we leave out and listeners fill in for themselves. Advertisers capitalize on the fact that the audience will fill in missing information. In other words, language implies, listeners infer. Implications are so effective because they are extremely common in everyday language, we are used to inferring. Advertisers generate implications by:

Juxtaposition of statement

Advertisers take two statements and juxtapose them. For example “Get a good night’s sleep, buy Noxitab” – nothing in this that says because you buy Noxitab you get a good night sleep – but consumer fills in/infers that there’s something in between them.

Bare Comparitors

These are words such as “bigger”, “faster”, “better” when they are used without being compared to anything. For example, a toothpaste company claims that if you use their product, you’ll have “whiter teeth”, but whiter than what? Than if you don’t brush your teeth? Than if you drink coffee?

Weasel Words

Weasel words are those that imply possibility with promising a guarantee. Examples of these are words like “can/may help”, “provides up to 12 hours of relief”. Advertisers hope you’ll infer that it WILL help and that the brand provides 12 hours of relief.

Piecemeal Sequence

Sticking claims together, that alone don’t have an impact, but together they do. For example, a mouth wash claims “Kills germs more effectively than the leading brand”, “Alcohol free for healthier gums”, “keeps breath fresher than mints”. When you look at claims independently, they’re not as effective. Maybe the leading brand isn’t all that great, what does “healthier gums” mean? Maybe mints don’t freshen breath all that well. Since we have this list, we think it’s more compelling than it is. Invited by language to forget that each statement alone isn’t compelling.

CCT316H5 Lecture, Spring 2006. Prof. Craig Chambers. Lectures 1, 2, 3.
Preston, A.L. The Tangled Web They Weave: Truth, Falsity & Advertisers. University of Wisconsin Press (1996).