Critics claim that puffery forms the main element of most advertisements. Products are shown to have a lot of qualities, which they do not possess in reality. On the other hand advertisers and advertising personnel defend the use of puffery. The defenders of puffery opine that it helps in differentiating products from their competitors.
They say that people are not expected to believe puffery literally. Like no one believes that they can ‘walk on air’ when they listen to the ‘Force 10’ shoes model saying I am walking on air. This line is a metaphor used to talk about the lightness of the shoes. Also puffery is being increasingly used, as there is no legal ban on it. Puffery is considered to be ‘opinion’ and not ‘factual information’. And people (advertisers) are free to give their opinions.
However, many times it becomes difficult to distinguish between truth and puffery. Advertising people claim that customers are reasonable and thinking persons, and thus do not believe every thing that is being said in the ads. But research has been consistently revealing that many people do believe the tall and exaggerated claims made in the ads and fall prey to them. Some advertisers also try to venture into the grey area between truth and deception.
For example food and toy advertisers often use special effects to exaggerate the quality and other features of their products. Similarly many advertisers dramatize their brands to such an extent that reality takes a back seat. Like if you are not wearing ’VIP Frenchie’ underwear, you would not get a girl friend. Chewing ‘Chick lets’ attracts girls to you. If you drink ‘Fanta’ then anything is possible. Suzuki Shogun motorcycle, when riding past, lights up houses and leaves many to wonder.
One major controversy in the international advertising field was created by one ad of Volvo cars. This car is considered to be safe and durable. To highlight these qualities of the car, the advertisement showed only Volvo survives a crash. Subsequent inquiries showed that the car used in the ad had additional reinforcement and support. Also they had removed the support structures from other cars shown in the ad.
We have many cases of deception in India also. Both Wheel (washing bar) and Vim (utensil washing bar) show lemons prominently on the package. The ads of these two products also claim there products contain the power of lemon. However, it has been found that these products only use lemon flavour.
Such cases, where fraud and deception are exposed, make advertisers more cautious about crossing the line between puffery and deception. Puffery, to the extent it is not harmful, is okay. But deception and dishonesty are unethical practices.