The Top Seven Ways Advertisers Lie to You

February 10, 2010

Every day, the average urban dweller consumes over 5,000 advertisements across various mediums including television, the Internet, the radio, as well as the physical space, like billboards and signage. Advertising is a trillion dollar industry worldwide, and with that kind of money being thrown around, you can bet those advertisers are going to use every trick at their disposal to find some way into your wallet.

Source: Travelif/Photodisc/Getty Images

7. Endorsed by Who?

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Source: Says-it.com

Have you ever looked at a product and noticed a stamp or seal which proclaimed that the item in your hand was endorsed or approved by some agency you’ve never heard of? That’s probably because that agency doesn’t really exist. Companies will often create their own agencies to endorse their products, giving consumers the false impression that the product has been given the thumbs up by an authority on the issue.

For instance, there's the "Smart Choices Made Easy" seal found on various food products in supermarkets across the nation. This seal and its implied health endorsement was created by one of the largest food manufactures in the world, and was designed to make consumers think that those products were, well, "smart" choices than other products which did not have that seal.

But the Smart Choices program recently made headlines when the FDA brought the hammer down because they realized that brands were applying the seal kind of liberally, and they took issue with their use of it on things like, you know, Corn Pops.

6. It Says "Deluxe" Right There on the Box!

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Source: Kraft

Can anyone pinpoint what exactly defines a product as “premium?" Popov Vodka is a "premium" liquor – it says so right on the label – but anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to drink it will tell you it’s better suited to free up clogged drains than make cocktails. Advertisers rely on vaguely-defined terms to influence consumers' associations with those products.

What makes a food “Light” or a truck “Heavy Duty?" There are no clear legal specifications for these terms, so companies are basically free to use terms like these to convince consumers that a product has added value when it very well may not.

5. Buy the Numbers

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Source: Chris Thomaidis/Stone/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to juke the stats when it comes to the art of hocking product. The easiest way to do this is to use slight alternations of widely understood standards to make a number appear larger than it actually is.

For instance, when ISPs advertise Internet service, they typically use the “Mbps” and “Kbps” units of measurement, instead of the standard “Mb” and “K." While most people think of Megabyte when they see “Mb” (because that’s how almost everything is measured in the tech world now), what they’re actually seeing is Megabit, a unit of measurement which is rarely seen anywhere else. Since a bit is 1/8th of a byte, when most people think they’re buying a 5 Megabyte connection, what they’re actually getting is an 8th of that – 625 Kilobytes per second, or just a bit over half a Megabyte. 

And of course, that’s the absolute maximum, and even that is typically far from normal performance. But those advertisers bank on customers’ lack of knowledge in hopes that those larger numbers will make their service appear more attractive.

4. This Product Will Fix Everything

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Source: Vintage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The use of suggestion is the heart and soul of advertising. As advertising evolves, those creating the adverts lean more and more heavily on psychological tactics to create subconscious associations between products and typical issues in people’s lives, even if the association is extremely vague, or just flat out incongruous.

When a company shows an advert where a mother is neglecting to pay attention to her children and offers quick-bake cookies as a time-saving solution, they are trying to convince us that these cookies will suddenly make us better parents, and that the potential 10 minutes saved baking cookies will equate to a better relationship with our children. A dysfunctional family won’t suddenly become a happy, cohesive unit because someone puts a plate of snickerdoodles on the table, but if you flash that idea in front of someone’s face enough times, it might just stick.

 

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3. Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

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Source: Comcast

Another tactic often used by major companies is to re-brand product as being built by one company when it is actually made by another. For instance, when you buy a Chevrolet Aveo, you are actually buying a Korean-built Daewoo Kalos, with the Daewoo logos replaced with Chevrolet logos.

The logic behind this is that consumers will have more confidence in a product that is associated with a better known or higher quality brand, even if the product itself doesn’t perform to that standard.

This ploy is used for nearly every type of product imaginable – food, electronics, clothing, medicine – you name it. And if your company starts to get a bad reputation for whatever reason, it’s often easier (and cheaper) to just change the brand name than improve the product or service itself.

 

2. The Chicks Just Can't Resist Your Dandruff Shampoo

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Source: Chris Stein/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Probably the most well-known mantra in advertising is “sex sells.” It has universal appeal, and it can be applied to almost everything you can sell. What does sex appeal have to do with food? Practically nothing, but you’ll watch a girl go to town on a meat lovers pizza in a commercial because of it.

Will buying a certain type of shaving cream make women want to caress your face? Honestly we'd be kind of suspicious of any woman who went from ice-cold to all-up-on-us just because of a switch to a new edgy bodywash brand. Is a specific brand of toothpaste going to get you laid? Will minty breath get you noticed on a crowded subway car?

Of course not, but advertisers know that if they pound that idea into enough people’s heads enough times, some of them will bite.

1. Built For Sexy Badasses, Just Like You

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Source: Workbook Stock/Robert Llewellyn/Getty Images

Everyone has their own impression of how they appear to the rest of the world, or at least how they’d like to appear to the rest of the world. Advertisers realize this, and now more than ever, attempt to create an association in consumers’ subconscious between products and “types” of people.

Are you a gentleman, or a biker, or a business man based on the brand of alcohol you buy? On a literal level, everyone knows that's ridiculous, but it’s that reassuring idea that companies often employ to help sell products that have no association with the lifestyle or ideal they're relating it to.

What do clowns have to do with cheeseburgers? Absolutely nothing, but children will want to go to one fast food restaurant over another if they equate fun and happiness with that company’s products.

In summation: always remember that alternative sandwich spreads do not make you a non-conformist.

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