/ Shopping

Why are we so easily taken in by advertising?

Square heads cartoon

If you ask Brits whether they trust advertising claims made on TV, online or in newspapers, would you expect them to give ads the thumbs up? Well, a recent survey found that over two thirds of us trust them. Why?

In the study, conducted by ComRes on behalf of Credos, 69% of British adults said they trusted advertising to ‘some extent’ or ‘to a great extent’.

Are they wise or bonkers?

Two thirds of respondents agreed that advertising has a social value, such as raising the profile of issues like drink-driving, healthy eating or even mis-sold PPI. That’s fair enough, but this isn’t the type of advertising we should be wary of.

Misleading ads are everywhere

What about broadband providers’ “unlimited” declarations, misleading anti-wrinkle cream ads, or a chocolate spread’s healthy breakfast claims? There are a whole host of ads which put forward misleading statements that too many of us are duped by.

I’m still embarrassed to admit that I was somewhat won over by Nutella’s healthy claims, even though each tub contains a whole bunch of sugar. Still, I wasn’t the only one, commenter Sandie & Gray admitted to falling for it too:

‘I am one of the goodness knows how many who believed that Nutella was diet friendly due to its wholesome contents.’

I’m sure we’ve both learned our lesson. Thankfully, ComRes’s poll also found that just 49% of respondents thought favourably of the advertising industry, which suggests that there’s still some unrest with advertiser’s tactics.

Anti-wrinkle creams debunked

At Which? we’ve put anti-wrinkle eye creams through our thorough lab tests. None of them came close to eliminating the appearance of wrinkles, so any ads that claim otherwise are probably talking out of their behind.

Plus, when we asked whether you’ve ever been misled by beauty ads, only one solitary vote said that they hadn’t felt tricked and were ‘happy with what they had bought’.

The rest of the votes were split between those who had regretted buying certain products and those who were wise enough not to buy stuff based on ads. Commenter JR put it well, ‘Some of the small print in adverts these days are verging on something from a comedy spoof show’.

Trussst in me

So why do so many of us trust adverts? Sam’s reply to my Conversation on video game advertising – something I feel can be very misleading when mocked up computer-generated graphics are played instead of actual gameplay footage – sums up why we shouldn’t:

‘I don’t think it’s unique to [the gaming] industry. Endless “health” products and hair things use fake science in their ads, and stupid buzzphrases like “wrinkles appear reduced” and “most women say” which only exist to manipulate.

‘Advertising is not a business I associate with morals, so although I hope that practices like this will end, I know they won’t.’

I’m not sure we’ll ever see the back of misleading adverts either, so keep your beady eyes on them and take everything you watch with a hefty pinch of salt.


like many people i used to believe there was some sort of law (trading standards) that prevented advertisers from using unsubstantiated or misleading claims and so anything they were “allowed” to say must therefore be true. …………..cue maniacal laughter vincent price style.
then i noticed video game ads with “not actual game footage”, mascara ads “model shown with lash inserts (fake eyelashes) and computer post production”, washing detergents “may require repeated use / several treatments” after saying the stain goes first time. lies, LIes, LIES!! i really think this is not just a consumer issue but a governmental issue. after all we are used to being lied to by our politicians, they must be able to come up with something useful like a new set of regulations to protect the gullible and easily led and those of us that didn’t see the microscopic “get out clause” they flashed on screen for a second or two.

hits the nail on the head… exactly what are the consumer bodies (read quangos) doing about it all?
from the complete lack of action, id say nothing!

Quangos in all fields are currently expanding, spending more of taxpayer’s money on guidelines/rules/consultations, etc, and less on actually doing what they were brought into and paid (generously) to do.
Trading standards, independant organisation that protects consumers and enforces strict laws.
Lots of calls they get, so some wise head sets up consumer direct – duplicating and vetting calls to trading standards. Trading standards now start dealing with businesses and super complaints for a headline grabbing attention to justify funding.
Not content with the now non existant law enforcement, now some clown comes up with consumer focus.
The solution is simple, trading standards should be monitoring businesses, on pricing, charges, misleading customers, etc, using the laws that we already have to protect us all.
Give trading standards some more money if thats what they need and scrap consumer direct.
Half the time an enquiry is passed to trading standards via consumer direct and trading standards cant even be bothered to return the call, and when they do its normally days later.

The ASA hasnt got all the tools to do the job (which trading standards used to do – another quango?) Have you seen the amount of time it takes to gather evidence?
What’s wrong with giving the business a set time limit to respond and failing that, they are ruled against?
They need more power to enforce the laws of the land.

One trading standards funded properly would end the need for other copycat qyangos spending vast amounts of our tax on reports.
Then perhaps, we’d maybe get a trading standards that prosecuted businesses instead of “working with them” – helped the individual, instead of referring them to another quango – and this action would in turn, deter business from pushing the boundaries of reality with their marketing tricks.

Well said moaner. Surely a 2 second flash of small print is not enough.

I think it also is associated with language. ie. “Clinically proven formula that COULD slow the appearance of wrinkles” – I wonder what exactly is clinically proven, the fact that it doesn’t melt your or the rabbits face off?

Another one of my favourites is the propensity to use the word “Nourish”. My girlfriend, sisters and Mum go mental for this word.

Needless to say I am one of the ones who doesn’t believe a word of advertising

Credos says:
6 May 2011

We’re Credos, the think-tank that commissioned this research. Although it’s true that the majority of people trust advertising to at least some extent, they are not saying they trust all advertising, all of the time. Some adverts they do believe, some they don’t. People’s default position towards advertising is one of healthy scepticism – they understand that advertising is trying to persuade them, and so they’ll ‘take it with a pinch of salt’.

“ComRes conducted an online survey of 2,053 GB adults between 17 and 19 December 2010.”

I am impressed that the Article linked to is honest in its methodology change to garner better figures. I have a deep deep distrust of surveys. This shows how much can be done in the construction of a survey and tweaking. Incidentally it is not clear whether this is a correctly weighted survey for the population profile of the UK or just of those who answered an on-line survey and had the time to spare.

“Throughout the 1980s, favourability never fell below 50%, but in 2009, the industry reached a historic low of just 29%.

According to Credos, the increase in favourability in the 2011 results follows a change in the phrasing of one of the multiple choice answers from “neither favourable or unfavourable”, to “no opinion”.

In 2009, the “neither favourable or unfavourable” option was picked by 45% of respondents, and in 2011, the “no opinion” option was picked by 6%”

We attempt to protect children from sex, violence and bad language on TV and in films, but we don’t do much to help them understand that advertising is often dishonest.

There is plenty of scope for schools to help children to question the claims made in advertising. It is never to early to develop critical evaluation skills.

I’ve just seen a Direct Line car insurance ad, where they say 50% of customers paid less than £340.

Yet in the small print along the bottom of the ad, it says this is based on 50% of new or renewing customers.

So does that mean only 25% of customers paid less than £340. If so, why not say that. Oh wait it doesnt sound very good does it.

About time regulators actually policed what they’re employed to regulate rather than rely on all and sundry to do there jobs for them.

“Trading standards now start dealing with businesses and super complaints for a headline grabbing attention to justify funding.2

Sort of the same thing Which? did then. Gave up direct control of the magazine so it could launch super- complaints. Not a good trade IMO.

There is no doubt that Which? could do more in the field of exposing shoddy advertising. Perhaps soe annual awards? How about sponsoring a bill that makes all companies, and advertising agents put the full details of the underlying research on their web sites

Cisco ASA says:
30 September 2012

You can definitely see your skills in the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

Patrick Steen, could you do a follow up to this Conversation topic?

I was recently told that it’s NOT necessary for advertisers to include certain information about products like what they’re made of and how long they’ll last, or even if they’re of satisfactory quality or durability for what they’re being bought for.