/ Shopping

Do ads influence what you buy?


Are you ad-proof, or do you occasionally find yourself taken in by a claim or aspirational image in adverts? Some of you are already wise to the tricks of the trade.

We noticed that some community members take a slightly more cautious approach to adverts, but surely not everyone is so ad-proof?

Picture the scene. A car drives fast down a sunny coast road miraculously free of other vehicles. Or how about this: an impossibly glamourous couple laughing and dancing at four in the morning through the streets of Paris.

You get the idea. Neither of these adverts makes a claim about the product. In fact, neither tells you anything much about it – the wheel trim of the car nor the smell of the after shave being promoted.

And none of us really believes a new car will ensure a life of sunshine and no traffic lights. Or that the sniff of a new aftershave will have Hollywood stars hammering at our door in the middle of the night.

Still the subtext is clear. Buy this product and get a taste of this wonderful, glamorous/exciting/dangerous (insert your own adjective) lifestyle.

Tempting claims

That kind of subliminal advertising is one thing, but there are also plenty of product ads that make more overt claims, inviting you to enjoy shinier hair, whiter teeth or faster broadband.

As far as such claims go, Which? Conversation member Malcolm R is firmly in what he calls the ‘pinch of sodium chloride’ camp, as he put it in our discussion of claims made for shampoos:

‘As far as marketing is concerned, it has been going on for thousands of years. A supplier will tell you all the positive features of a product, but is unlikely to advertise the negative ones. If we don’t know by now to take advertising claims with a pinch of sodium chloride and use our own judgement and instincts (helped, perhaps, by exposures from Which?), we never will.’

Or as Derek P, puts it:

‘Might there be a clue to the veracity and value of some of these claims within the first four letters of the word sham… poo!’

Watch the wording

We’ve been very sceptical of some marketing. For example, when we looked at the science behind toothpaste claims, our experts compared two toothpastes that claimed to give whiter teeth in a week and saw no evidence to back up the claims.

Some ad claims are of course carefully worded. We’ve been campaigning against those broadband ads that say you can get a speed of ‘up to’ – ads that are technically OK if only 10% of customers can actually get that speed.

I like to think that I share the firm common sense of many Which? Convo members in casting a cold eye on advertising claims.

And yet. Aren’t we all a bit susceptible? With me, it’s eye wrinkle cream. Being a chap of a certain age, I confess to having at least two brands of cream on my bathroom shelf that claim to tackle those fine lines around your eyes.

It’s not really that I expect they’ll make me look or feel 20 years younger. Not really. But you never know. The hope still lingers.

Claims that crumbled

Some advertisers do run into problems. Food giant Kellogg’s, for example, has been banned from telling consumers that its Special K cereal is ‘full of goodness’ and ‘nutritious’ in UK ad campaigns.

And there are those ads that go disastrously wrong.

When some cigarettes called Strand were launched, a big TV ad campaign was produced to publicise them. It showed a dark, wet, deserted London street scene in which a raincoated character, played by Terence Brook, looking similar to Frank Sinatra, lit a cigarette and puffed reflectively. In the background played a tune, The Lonely Man Theme and a voice announced ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’

It may have sounded good, but sales were so poor that Strands were soon taken off the market. The trouble was that people associated smoking Strand cigarettes with being lonely and who wants to think of themselves as lonely?

So do you think you can be convinced by advertising? Would you choose a product or perhaps a brand purely based on an advert? Or do you consider yourself a bit more sceptical when it comes to advertising claims?


Taking a pinch of NaCl is still my mantra, but the shampoo Convo (and Patrick) did start me using hair conditioner, and it does make a difference. Mrs r agrees. I haven’t tried anti-wrinkle cream though – they haven’t arrived yet.

I see adverts as informing about products that are available. But you need to view the claims with scepticism and common sense, and if you are of an engineering bent like me you’ll laugh some off and if you remain interested. try and find independent information before you succumb.

When I was little there was tales of an advert in the paper for something that promised to “cut your electricity bills in half”. Those who went for it received a pair of scissors. If it’s too good to be true……


Glad to hear about your new hair Malcolm 😀


Ads are nothing more than an attempt to part you from your money and give you something you didn’t really think you needed or wanted not 5 mins before.

Ads are very often misleading in my opinion, albeit the ASA never agrees. Can you remember one as a few years back when on Gary “Nice Guy” Lineker took a crisp from a bag of crisps, and all you saw was the tips of his fingers go into the bag before producing a crisp. Yet you try and get a crisp out without needing to stick an arm neck and shoulders in. The ASA didn’t believe there was an intention to decieve, so s*d the fact it was inaccurate the ad stood.

Today you’ll see Ryan Reynolds doing a BT ad, were he’s lifted into the air by a helicopter, Really? I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t CG’d up to the hilt.

And whats with game ads, using “Not actual ingame footage”. is the ingame footage that bad you can’t use it. next ad please.

So no, ads are now only something to fast forward thru.

Having sad that I did like the Call of Duty ad that aired at the end of last year. “what you’ll don’t know about Cara” classic. Didn’t make me buy the game though. oh well.

Nigel says:
1 August 2016

I laugh at some adverts that make claims, e.g. head and shoulders is ‘up to’ 100% effective, the words ‘up to’ are in small print. Also, anything can be ‘up to’ 100% effective, you could wash your hair in vegetable oil and it could meet the claim. Even if you could prove that the shampoo was only 0.000000000000000000001% effective, it would meet the advertiser’s claims.
I always think about what ISN’T said in an advert, not what IS said. Remember, all adverts are merely smoke and mirrors, and are simply made to part you with your cash.


There is no way-shape or form that ads have any influence on me . I am totally immune to them just like it has been proved I cant be hypnotized , so auto suggestion doesnt work . This I have found to be part of my upbringing where I was forced to comply but never in my brain accepted it . I built up a steel wall that blocks off the acceptance of what is said . I hate adverts, turn the sound off , change channels , I realise that makes me an outcast as far as the psychological “herd instinct ” is concerned but I dont care.


Why does this convo feel like a Gallup Poll ?

David Hayes says:
2 August 2016

Right with you, we do exactly the same. Repetitive adverts must surely put people off?

June says:
2 August 2016

I don’t think the ASA is tough enough with companies who exaggerate their products capabilities. Cosmetics is probably the worst. The pictures of models with sweeping long eyelashes have little to do with the mascara advertised and much more to do with the false lash inserts they are wearing. This fact is displayed briefly in tiny print on the screen and is probably missed by most. What about that annoying idiot who speaks with a Spanish accent advertising the amazing strength of Plenty “ONE SHEEEET” kitchen towels? You cannot rinse them and wring them out, as he claims. They will tear like any other paper kitchen towel if you try or if you use too much pressure when cleaning. They are only good for soaking up spills or wiping your hands on. I know it is supposed to be humorous, but it is not. It is just annoying. Cillit Bang, another gross exaggeration of its cleaning capabilities. I could go on and on. It is time The ASA earned their coin and stopped misleading advertisements such as these. There are far too many of them.