The Use of Puffery in Advertising
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This essay evaluates the Puppy Chow Ad. It also tackles whether or not the said ad used puffery in making its claims. The analysis can be found on the middle part. An introduction about the use of puffery in advertising and other Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) materials is included to give the reader a background about the said topic. As a conclusion to the essay, it discusses whether is it okay or not for companies to use puffery in their advertising campaigns.
Marketers used puffery to enhance their products. Puffery is a tool used by marketers in advertising and sales, with the aim of boosting their products’ awareness to its consumers. Despite recent threats in regulating the use of puffery by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the practice of using puffery by advertisers and salespeople still continues. Because of the marketplace’s characteristics, there are certain groups harmed by the use of puffery. These are the vulnerable consumers.
Pufferies are statements in promotional material that are so vague or general that they are not considered real or provable claims by either the manufacturer or the provider of the services. Some courts call puffery a “license to lie” because no person would reasonably rely on puffery as anything other than “loose sales talk.”
The roots of puffery are generally traced back to the sixteenth century when caveat emptor became the rule of business. In order to help protect the consumers in many areas, the consumerism movement was formed in the twentieth century. However, despite this act, most part of the puffery remains unabated.
According to Preston, puffery is the marketplace term for what elsewhere would simply be called an opinion statement, expressing the seller’s evaluation of the advertised item. However, it also involves an added feature that does not apply outside the marketplace. By legal definition, puffery claims praise the advertised item, through the use of subjective terms. No facts are stated explicitly. Therefore, they represent no factual content to consumers creating no basis for them to believe anything about the item that would affect their purchasing decision.
Historically, claims that were “mere exaggerations” or “hyperbole” were considered to be puffery. Therefore, they are not considered to be deceptive in nature. However, terms like “the best” or “the greatest” were sales talk that the FTC would not regulate. In short, puffery was a form of opinion statement that is considered non-regulatory.
The FTC has its own definition of puffery. For them, pufferies are claims that reasonable people do not believe to be true product qualities. They are incapable of being proved either true or false. As a result, if deception is the creation of “false belief” about the product in the consumer’s mind, claims that fall into the definition of puffery by the FTC cannot be deceptive. By definition, such claims can be neither false nor can they create belief. This means that if deceptive claims have slipped through regulation as pufferies, it is because the FTC has failed to follow its own definition.
The Use of Puffery in the Puppy Chow Ad
The Puppy Chow Ad uses puffery in making its claims. The use of the term champions is considered to be in the superlative degree, similar to the terms best, superior, best among the rest, etc. To prove its claim that “Purina is the choice of the champions,” it stated facts about the past users of the product. Like for Levi (the first dog), according to its owner, his grandmother uses the same product. Together with the picture of his grandmother as well as Levi’s, it serves as the proof for buyers to see the result of feeding your dog with the said product. Again, according to the ad in order for Levi to be the next darling of the judges, he should follow the footsteps of his grandmother, including the food that his grandma eats, and that is Purina.
Although they stated facts about the history of the Purina users, it is still not enough proof for consumers to use the product. It will only make them curious about the product, if it really works that way. The decision still depends on the consumers’ part. A reasonable consumer will try it first, or at least call the number stated in the ad for more details. Any consumer will do anything to protect his dog from any future harm that the product may cause.
The statement that “Purina is the choice of the champions from the start” is merely an opinion statement of the seller. It is a way of the manufacturer (of Purina) to increase the product’s appeal to its possible consumers. It is not enough proof that Purina alone can make your dog a champion. There are still a lot of things to be considered to make your dogs grow as a champion. There are the training and the way the owner take care of his dog, including the monthly check-ups, visit to his vet, medications, etc. In addition, there is no proof that all champion dogs are being fed by Purina. There is still the possibility that other brands exist, who are also capable of creating a champion out of your dogs. Therefore, the Puppy Chow Ad uses puffery in its advertising campaign.
The use of puffery in advertising is okay as long as it does not actually cause consumers to act in ways that may hurt themselves. Claims that are misleading only need to encourage consumers. Besides, reasonable consumers do not actually believe in puffery whenever they are exposed to it. The theory behind this is that reasonable consumers are too savvy or intelligent to believe in such pufferies. The FTC’s Commercial Code forbids the deception of consumers by the advertisers, through the use of advertising. Advertising are sometimes used by advertisers to deceive its consumers. Besides, historically the FTC has ruled the puffery to be non-deceptive in nature.
In addition, puffery also entertains. Take this one as an example: a toy rabbit powered by a single battery of Energizer. As the commercial shows, it keeps on going and going, with the use of that single battery. However, in reality, the case is impossible since a single battery lasts for a maximum of eight hours of continued (non-stop) use. A reasonable person will not easily believe this. Nevertheless, the viewer is being entertained by the commercial ad in a certain way. For this reason, the use of pufferies is encouraged, specifically for its function of entertaining the consumers/viewers.
Puffery also does more than that. It also informs the consumers, and promotes product quality at the same time. Before a consumer buys a product, he must first know the specifics of that product. In order to make that possible, he must be aware of that product. One function of advertising is creating product awareness. Due to the modern days of technology nowadays, competition is stricter in terms of catching the consumers’ attention. Puffery is one of the benign means used by advertisers in grabbing the attention of its probable consumers.
Puffery also enables an advertiser to inform consumers, as well as making them believe that they (advertiser) got the best and great products for almost all of your (consumer) specific needs. If this will be discouraged, the consumers will carry the burden of discovering which among which are the best, all by themselves.
Another consequence will be diminished product innovation. Because consumers are more familiar with established products, compared with new products, puffery is considered to be essential in marketing new products. Fewer resources will be devoted to product innovation if firms encounter greater legal risks in bringing new products to consumers’ attention. As fewer products are introduced onto the market, established products face less intense competition. Therefore, product quality declines.
Of course, if puffery did not work, marketers would not use it. As Preston argues, “Puffery is endemic in American salesmanship, practically the soul and substance of the American way of selling. The industry’s conviction that puffery works is proof enough for me that it does, because I have great admiration for the expertise of the advertising profession.” The only reminder for advertisers to always bear in mind is the avoidance on the temptation of making objective claims that the product simply cannot live up to.