Misleading advertisements – their lies, truths, stats and impact.

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

In this week’s blog, I am going to talk about different misleading statistics and their impact. Ever since television advertisements were invented, from the mid 20th century until now, there have been many commercials which are deemed to be false and misleading. But the question I want to and many people want to know is this: “why do high powered companies insist on either lying or distorting information in their advertisements?” There is an obvious answer; they want more sales. But it isn’t the correct and ethical answer.

I’ve researched a few companies, and even though they are completely different adverts and products, they all have the same focus and try to make the same impact on us. One company I researched was Head and Shoulders, who make anti-dandruff shampoo, (Head and Shoulders ). On their website and in adverts, they state that “Around 50% of the world’s population suffers from symptoms of poor scalp health at some point.” Now this is misleading as there is no indication anywhere what sort of research was undertaken, or by whom. This could be a guess for all we know! They also say “get ready for beautiful, up to 100% dandruff free hair”. This is really vague and ambiguous; for all we know if we use this product we could get hair that has lost 1% of its dandruff, as this product can be up to 100% dandruff free. These certain types of adverts are really misleading and untruthful; they have a huge impact on us as a person, because the way they word their adverts, make us think we can achieve better results using their product. But we never really know if it can help or not. The only way we can find out is if we buy the actual item. This is all the companies want us to do.

Another company I found out that wasn’t particularly telling the truth was the company Innocent, who make the drinks This Water. They highlighted the fact that their drink contained just 90% spring water and fruit. There was no mention of the other 10% content, and their advert was actually banned due to the fact that a drink can have up to 46g of sugar in it. The company failed to mention this, but just promote the other 2 main ingredients (This Water). Again, this shows they have played on their words to make us buy their product; we would never know of the sugar content until we either saw the bottle in a supermarket or bought it and saw the label at home.

However, there are companies that do not mislead and want you to buy the product for yourself, not for them to get a massive profit on something that can be deemed as false. For example, the household cleaner, Mr Muscle claims that it “kills 99.99% of bacteria” (Mr Muscle). Unlike other adverts, it doesn’t say ‘up to’. It actually does what it says on the tin. By doing this, they are making a very bold statement about how effective their product actually is. And this advert does actually appeal. These sort of adverts are so confident their product will work over other companies, they sometimes state that we can have our money back if it doesn’t work. From my own experience, companies that have said this and I have then bought their products are telling the truth. Their product really does work.

To conclude, there are many misleading adverts out there on television, all wanting us to do the same thing; buy their product. The sad thing is, we actually do, due to how they say and word their commercial. But there are funny and actually helpful commercials out there that care for their customer. They want more than profit – they want us to be happy. The way they word their products is the thing that draws us to buy it, not the actual product itself. This is why most adverts are so effective.

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Comments
  1. psuc6b says:

    Hi, you picked an interesting topic by looking both at the dishonesty of marketing companies as well as their aim in fulfilling public interest. I think the examples you pick illustrate the problem quite well. However I disagree slightly about Mr Muscle’s advert being entirely “correct” or “ethical”. First of all we do not know what population they are referring to (50% of what population, 99% of what type of bacteria?). We would also probably want to know how many times they run the experiment and in what conditions. It may be that they looked at the presence of bacteria in a clean surface and found that there was only 1% of bacteria left after they sprayed the Mr Muscle product. The aim of adverts is to keep it vague by implying or suggesting causations without necessarily lying. In fact, their technique is quite clever and is definitely effective! At the end of the day if the advert is convincing, then it has done its job well I think it is debatable whether that should be considered unethical or not.. Maybe it depends on the degree to which they actually do miss out on vital information or give invalid data.! According to the American Marketing Association, the mandated self-regulatory ethical norms are the following: “do not harm, trust in the marketing system, and embrace ethical values of honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship”. These rules follow Gershon and Buerstatte’s concept of ethical behaviour (not lying, not cheating, not stealing, avoiding cruelty, deception and subterfuge, 2003). An advert showing a cat being tortured and saying that it is great fun would definitely be completely unethical. Another element to consider in the world of marketing is the respect of moral beliefs and culture. Being racist would clearly not be acceptable. Some advertising remains controversial such as this alcohol producer sponsoring the fight against breast cancer: http://www.eucam.info/eucam/home/news.html/1881/230/unethical-marketing-alcohol-producers-sponsor-fight-against-breast-cancer.-
    On the other hand, as you said, some adverts try the best not to be harmful or misleading. To expand a little bit on this argument, I have found a website which discusses the importance of making products appealing and the necessity to slightly deceive the consumers but for their own good:
    http://pzrservices.typepad.com/advertisingisgoodforyou/advertising_and_marketing_terms/. When looking at food, it is important that it looks appetizing (and the aim isn’t just to deceive). For example, they use white glue instead of milk when photographing bowls of cereal.

  2. suedonym344 says:

    I really like your choice of topic, consumer Psychology and the various trickery used by company is something I love to read about. I like how you’ve identified and explained the technique of weasel words and your example of “Up to 100% free dandruff hair” is a great example of that. Another common example you’ll find is when a company says “up to 50% off all in store” which gives people the image of a shop full half price products, when really it’s saying that discount will not exceed 50%. However your conclusion that Mr Muscle are a company “that do not mislead” because they don’t use the phrase “up to” is quite a leap. There are a great number of ways in which a statistics can be misleading without having to use of the words “Up to Whatever %”. You haven’t really questioned the figure itself could be misleading. It says that the product kills 99.9% of bacteria. What bacteria? Did they test it on the same bacteria that commonly found in peoples homes? Is this data likely to be applicable to those that use it? How many trails were there? A common trick used by companies is to conduct multiple experiments until they find the results they’re looking for and withhold information which doesn’t (Prochaska, Hall, Bero, 2008)

    Overall I really liked the topic area and you raised some valid points and provided great examples for each. However it would have been better if you had looked into the topic area a little more.
    Look forward to reading your next blog.

    (Prochaska, Hall, Bero, 2008) – http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/34/3/555.full%20

  3. PSUD00 says:

    It is interesting to think that the way advertisements word something gives us a view of the product that isn’t actually the truth like your example of This Water highlighting only two ingredients. However, there are strict guidelines as to what advertisements can actually say in order to reduce the amount of false or misleading information in adverts. For example, the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice has a code stating ‘Advertisements for collection-based promotions must not seem to urge children or their parents to buy excessive quantities of food. They must not directly encourage children only to collect promotional items, emphasise the number of items to be collected or create a sense of urgency’. (http://www.cap.org.uk/). Although this does not directly relate to statistics it does show that there are laws in place to try and make adverts more fair.

    It can also be argued that it is not their job to ensure we are not mislead. It is up to ourselves to not get sucked in by advertising and to look into things ourselves. Most people have a basic understanding of statistics and an understanding that adverts are out make us buy things. With this information we should know to be more careful when watching adverts. Professor Joel Best said that many of statistics are often skewed to “make the statistic seem as scary as possible.” He also said that “people do not pay adequate attention to the significance of details behind numbers and statistics, accepting them without scrutiny.” (http://www.udreview.com/statistics-commonly-misused-in-media-professor-says-1.2664439#.Ts_wB2MUqso) It is our own job to ensure we are not misled.

  4. tommywiseau says:

    Great topic to use, the use of misleading adverts are most prominent in the advertising of fast food in my opinion, http://www.alphaila.com/articles/failure/fast-food-false-advertising-vs-reality/ this link is a great example of how fast food chains such as mcdonalds and burger king amongst others try to make the food loook more appealing than it really is in comparison to what you actually get. This is due to such reasons as technical correctness whereby if you wnet into a chain and asked for a burger the size of what the advertising shows that would be impossible as tere is no clearly defined technical correctness in relation to the ad for what you will get served. Althought this is one small example of advertising as a whole your use of head and shoulders was an amusing statistic as around 50% of the world how would you even count that from every baby born to checking everyone in the words scalp that would be an impossible task. The examples you used were good although advertising is a big area to try so some different areas of advertising would have been good to check as not just the example covered but that of other banned adverts as some adverts may try to sell but can come out as potentially offensive such as the recent lynx advert being banned for objectifying women http://www.musicrooms.net/showbiz/43292-lucy-pinder-lynx-adverts-banned.html

  5. Anonymous says:

    In your blog you discussed how many companies use false or misleading advertisements to gain in the amount of sales they receive. I believe that communicating ethically consists of being honest, transparent and making sure you do not mislead others. I completely agree with you on this. There are a lot of companies who are guilty of being misleading when it comes to how they advertise their products. I have also come to find that a lot of companies will mislead in their advertising by trying to connect with their audience on an emotional level. This emotional appeal is used as bait to hook the viewers and make a sale. In my opinion, a company misleading their consumers by using their emotions is very unethical.

    In class we were discussing different political perspectives and your blog brought Franklyn Haiman’s perspective to my mind. He believed that it was unethical for a persuader to try and “plant suggestions” into the mind of others. Basically, Haiman felt it was okay to try and appeal to others emotions. However, there is a point where a persuader can go too far. Whenever this happens, the persuader has crossed the line and it is officially considered unethical.

    I also like the thing you pointed out about head and shoulders and how they used misleading statistics in their advertising. They may claim that “around 50% of the world’s population suffers from poor scalp health at some point”, but this does not tell us anything. For all we know they could have conducted a study of 100 people and based their 50% from that small population. They are not specific enough and they more than likely do not care how precise or credible their statistics are as long as it is appealing to the public and they are continuously increasing in sales. The amount of business they conduct takes precedent over the public’s needs, values, and desires.

    References
    Johannesen, R.L., Valde, K.S., & Whedbee, K.E. (2008). Ethics in human communication (6th ed.). Long
    Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

  6. Stephanie says:

    In your blog you discussed how many companies use false or misleading advertisements to gain in the amount of sales they receive. I believe that communicating ethically consists of being honest, transparent and making sure you do not mislead others. I completely agree with you on this. There are a lot of companies who are guilty of being misleading when it comes to how they advertise their products. I have also come to find that a lot of companies will mislead in their advertising by trying to connect with their audience on an emotional level. This emotional appeal is used as bait to hook the viewers and make a sale. In my opinion, a company misleading their consumers by using their emotions is very unethical.

    In class we were discussing different political perspectives and your blog brought Franklyn Haiman’s perspective to my mind. He believed that it was unethical for a persuader to try and “plant suggestions” into the mind of others. Basically, Haiman felt it was okay to try and appeal to others emotions. However, there is a point where a persuader can go too far. Whenever this happens, the persuader has crossed the line and it is officially considered unethical.

    I also like the thing you pointed out about head and shoulders and how they used misleading statistics in their advertising. They may claim that “around 50% of the world’s population suffers from poor scalp health at some point”, but this does not tell us anything. For all we know they could have conducted a study of 100 people and based their 50% from that small population. They are not specific enough and they more than likely do not care how precise or credible their statistics are as long as it is appealing to the public and they are continuously increasing in sales. The amount of business they conduct takes precedent over the public’s needs, values, and desires.

    References
    Johannesen, R.L., Valde, K.S., & Whedbee, K.E. (2008). Ethics in human communication (6th ed.). Long
    Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

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