Friday, January 15, 2016

Misleading Advertising: The Subliminal Effect

We often see a variety of marketing terms on the packaging; in commercials, on billboards, in magazine ads or in the content of web pages. These terms are used as activators or modifiers, and are designed to reinforce the quality of a product and reinforce impulse buying without making any direct claims that need to be supported through quantitative or qualitative study results about the efficacy of the product. We see them so often and they are so pervasive that they act on us in a subliminal or suggestive way. The carefully chosen hypebole simply adds to the narrative about a product potentially creating a false impression for unsuspecting consumers. Here are just a few that I have observed in recent advertising.

Trusted, tested and recommended: who tested it? What were the results? Why is it trusted? Who recommended it? On almost every occasion there is no statistical evidence to support any such claims.  

Superior, premium, select, prime, choice: these words are adjectives that confer no special class or quality to a product or service, other than an unsubstantiated claim. These words are often used to “tell” a consumer about the quality because the quality is not apparent and often not present.

The letter ”Y”: adding the letter “Y” to some words modifies them to weaken their basis in fact. For example to say something is “cheesy” , buttery’, “fruity” or “meaty”, suggests that this product tastes like its more wholesome counterpart but may not fact have any of the original ingredient in it.

Flavour: here is another modifier. Add it to Cheesy, or fruity and you now know for sure that there are no original natural components in the product being flogged. These two words together in marketing lingo mean “like “. Cheesy flavour means packets of added flavours that can include just about anything except the product being “likened to.” 

“Gluten Free”: used as “come on” to appeal to someone trying to eat healthy. It feeds the myth that Gluten is the root of all evil in foods.

“All natural”: It masks the need for any data to support the claim. Stick the word “natural” on any product and you immediately have a healthy alternative without the need to offer any evidence of its healthy nature.
Green: the colour green has become an important packaging activator. It immediately confers environmental conscious qualities to a product without any need to substantiate the claim.  

“Lower ***** than our regular brand”: lower than what?  Often lower then there regular brand that was fatter than just about any product you could consume.

“Low Fat”: associated with healthy, nutritious options  but usually means higher in carbohydrates and salt

“Are you feeling tired, and are your muscles sore?” Aimed at seniors, who as a matter of course are tired and sore - because they are seniors! A come on deigned to hook you at the beginning of the commercial by getting you to say “Yes…I feel like that.”

“Do you want to leave something behind for your children?”  A “bean counter” exercise designed to take money from seniors, who they feel are too dull witted to realize that this is not a windfall – it will be paid for by each senior in full and generate very limited pay out.

“Car of the year!” Usually indirectly paid for by the manufacturer through magazine ads and special sponsorship. Manufactures tend to trade this honor to promote new or revitalized brands

“24/7 customer service”: usually web chat or FAQs represent the lion’s share of help and they often hide the phone number in the deepest bowls of the web site or paperwork to make it difficult to call in. Another way of avoiding actually talking to your customers because they have too many complaints about their product

“Product of Canada” or “Made in Canada”: Often just food manufactured in other countries and repackaged in warehouses in Canada. Most manufactures use the Canadian Competition Bureau’s test definition for these labels; as long as it meets the following it can use this label – “the last substantial transformation of the good occurred in Canada”  
“Botanicals, essential oils and extracts”: often only an extremely small amount by volume with few if any details on what botanicals… it all sounds healthy when mentioned in anti-aging products but no statistical evidence is provided….because none exists.

Free: there is no such thing as free …ever! All costs related to products are calculated into its sale regardless of claims. You may pay the true cost in other ways, shipping, or handling fees or through other business services attached to a product, annual fees, licensing, etc. 

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