Of Qualifiers, Disclaimers, and Percentage Claims

In Marketing Ethics on March 23, 2012 by Jox Tagged: , , , , , , ,


Marketers have a professional tendency to over emphasize the positive. Perhaps in an attempt to make consumers focus on the great features of a brand. It is also to make the aware of a big truth that was marginally known. More importantly, it is to get ahead of competition. Nevertheless, you can’t blame advertising for serving its purpose. The way statistics handled in advertising remain debatable. But for the skeptics i.e. individuals who see advertising as mere frivolity posing as an “investment” but is believed to be a huge expense, exaggerating numbers for the sake of making a brand look good may be grounds for proving that “Marketers are indeed liars” [SETH GODIN].

EXAMPLE A: More than 80% of women prefer Brand A over the other brand.

EXAGGERATED NUMBERS & ROUNDED OFF PERCENTAGES: Sure, it is true. After all, any claims in an ad passes through an ethical board. But just like how the news get the most controversial part of a truth, consumers are spared from the technicalities and are left to digest convincing numbers that make brand attributes positive. Yes, 80% of women prefer Brand A but how big was the sample base? Was the methodology even systematic such that the derived conclusion that developed into a claim sound? Why is saying more than 80% vs. exactly 80% more attractive when in fact a mere 0.75% difference made the claim so much bigger like it’s nearly 90%? TRUTH IS NOT ENOUGH. People are naturally inclined to good news.

EXAMPLE B: Best ever product/ formulation/ etc.

PRODUCT COMPARISONS AND BOTTOM QUALIFIERS: Upon first impression, a consumer would assume that the brand is better than others. Zooming in to the size 10 Arial disclaimer, it says vs. previous formulation. The comparison only applies to the product’s previous properties and its supposedly better formulation now. Yes, consumers have the right to know the truth and advertising practitioners have the responsibility to reveal them. How the truth is revealed depends on the latter which is usually indicated in small asterisked qualifiers at the bottom of the frame. The truth is not revealed out loud rather in a hush. It’s the truth but it’s probably not worth knowing because it’s hardly readable. Qualifiers tend to be used to cover technicality bums should claims be contested later on.

EXAMPLE C: Number One in the world/market/among mothers, etc.

SCOPE OF SUPERLATIVE CLAIMS: Everyone has a right to brag about being number one. By all means, go ahead. But the words, “NUMBER ONE” have a certain appeal among consumers seeking validity even in their own lives. People want to be on top and so do brands. Sometimes, there are ads that fail to communicate to the consumer and turn out to be answering all claims of a close competitor: Brand Wars. The consumers get pushed aside in the communication flow and brands just want to outlast each other. If one can’t claim that is it not number one in the market, it can always borrow a larger statistics that says it is number one in the world. World = just five countries. Yet, nobody cares anyway. Another pitfall is applying another countries statistics on another declared “similar” market. Fine, research studies need not be redundant but how close are the market attributes such that the claims on another country is applicable on another just to boost consumer confidence? The scope of the study turned into a claim is also subject to questioning.

The Cry for Authenticity Just like any profession, ethics must be upheld in marketing. The rules, however, are subject to debate. The competition is getting stiffer and product superiority is pushed to the extremes just to grab consumer attention. However, consumers are getting smarter and more empowered to get to the bottom of the truth. It is easier for them to tilt the balance from brands to them once they know the truth. They have the web that enable to broadcast information they have been deprived of. So marketers must do their research, tell the truth and tell it with the intention to impart the truth. The frills always get washed away. Put some authenticity into the brand such that even if it is stripped naked by anyone, it is real to the core.


(C) Copyright protected| BRANDS AND PITCHES 2012


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