Advertisers are very fond of promoting the best case scenario in advertisements, such as sale ads that say “Save up to 50% on sofas” or “Sofas as low as $199″.
The careful reader will or should recognize this trick that not all sofas are discounted 50% or priced at $199. But what about the average person who is exposed to advertising? Do they only recall the 50% savings claim rather than the “up to” part of the claim?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wanted to know, so they commissioned a study to out. Over 350 people were shown one of the three ads below, and asked about what they recalled.
The first ad makes an “up to 47%” savings claim. The second makes a straight 47% claim. And the third makes an “up to 47%” savings but with a fine print disclosure that the average savings are 25%.
When asked what the ad said about how much you would save on heating and cooling bills with these windows,
Ad 1 (with “up to” claim): 46% said they would save “47%” and only 26% said “up to” 47%
Ad 2: 58% said they would save “47%”
Ad 3 (with “up to” claim and disclaimer): 37% said they would save 47% and 30% said “up to” 47%
The study suggests that many consumers are blind to fine print disclosures, and that the use of “up to” claims misleads sizeable numbers of consumers. This certainly appears to support the notion that sellers should not be allowed to use either “up to” claims nor to put clarifications in fine print footnotes.
Massachusetts law, for example, does not allow “up to” claims in advertising. The ad must state both the smallest discount and largest discount in equal size type (such as “save 10 – 50%”), and at least 10-percent of the items being offered for sale must be available at the biggest discount offered.
Not a bad model to follow in the other 49 states.