Fallacies in advertising vs. false advertising – what publishers should know

  • 11 / 01 / 2024
  • Alicja Graczyk
Fallacies in advertising vs. false advertising – what publishers should know

People have always advertised their products and services by emphasizing their positive features and sometimes downplaying their negative ones. When it comes to digital advertising, users might come across campaigns that can actually be misleading consumers! The challenge is to distinguish what is still considered ethical and acceptable from what is not. Importantly, as a publisher monetizing your content with ads, you should be able to protect your audience from misleading ones! Among others, in this article, you will find out what the bandwagon fallacy definition is and what false advertising examples are!

What is false advertising?

False advertising is a promotional strategy that includes a false claim. Many governments employ regulations to restrict such practices, as it might directly hurt consumers by, for instance, tricking them into buying “healthy” products, which in reality are stuffed with mediocre ingredients.

When publishers permit false advertising creatives to be displayed on their websites, they risk jeopardizing the trust of their audience, their hard-earned website traffic, and their reputation. Luckily, there are ways to act when something like that happens or even to prevent it completely – we will delve into that deeper in the next paragraphs!

What are advertising fallacies?

Fallacies used in advertising, on the other hand, are techniques that help to sell the product or service. Usually, advertisers try to evoke a sense of credibility and desirability in their potential consumers with cognitive biases, emotional triggers, and logical errors. Most advertisements based upon such strategies aren’t illegal, as opposed to clearly false advertising.

Most common logical fallacies:

  • Ad hominem fallacy – this term derives from Latin and can be loosely translated to “against the person”. Advertisers using this tactic attempt to discredit their opponents and make them appear unattractive by appealing to emotions;
  • Halo effect in advertising is mostly used to make the potential buyers believe that the new product is as good as some old one made by the same company, although not yet tested out. This kind of belief is based on the human tendency to attribute certain positive features to the whole brand after a good previous encounter with its products;
  • Bandwagon fallacy is a way for advertisers to try to convince people to buy a product or service based on the notion that other people like it. An example of a catchy advertisement that employs this technique might state: “35% of Americans pick this toothpaste”. This tendency is easy to spot even in real life – for example, when given a choice between two restaurants, many people are inclined to dine in the one with more customers;
  • Appeal to authority is a smart way for advertisers to gain the trust of the audience. Sportsmen advertising sports attire or actors dressed as paramedics talking about headache pills seem much more convincing;
  • Red herring fallacy often involves drawing attention away from a competitor’s product by highlighting an irrelevant flaw. The name of this phenomenon derives from the tactic of deceiving a hunting dog from its prey with strong-scented fish;
  • Slippery slope tactic is often used to exaggerate the possible outcomes of some events. In the digital advertising industry, it might look like, for instance, a suggestion that if you don’t use a specific detergent, your kitchen will remain dirty forever;
  • Hasty generalization is a commonly used fallacy, where some statements are based upon small, insufficient evidence. An example of such a tactic is providing the results of a survey about a product: “9 out of 10 drivers recommend this service” – the recipient of the advertisement doesn’t even know how many people took part in the survey;
  • False cause fallacy unreasonably links two unrelated phenomenons. Supposedly, these two have a cause-and-effect relationship. For instance, it might be used to advertise “lucky jeans” that will supposedly favor all their owner’s endeavors;
  • Straw man fallacy goal is to misrepresent an opponent’s argument, feature, ability, or point of view. In the advertising world, it’s often used in laundry detergent ads, by referring to different commonly sold products that have supposedly worse dirt-removing features than the one presented in the ad.

Real-life examples of fallacies in advertising

Fallacies described in the paragraph above can easily be spotted in many advertisements, even in the case of the most popular brands:

  • For instance, an example of an ad hominem fallacy is the Pepsi slogan “The choice of a new generation”, which directly attacked the Coca-Cola Company, indicating that enjoying the opponent’s beverage was outdated;
  • An advertisement that employs an appeal to authority fallacy is, without a doubt, a Colgate commercial that encourages to buy their product with the “9 out of 10 dentists who tried would recommend it” slogan;
  • Another case is Coca-Cola Christmas campaign that indicated that their beverage has “The original taste of Christmas”. It’s an excellent exemplification of the false cause fallacy: although Christmas has a longer tradition than “coke”, the company claims that the taste of its most famous soft drink is already inseparably connected to this festivity;
  • Importantly, commercials like the three mentioned above didn’t bring any negative publicity or stir in the advertising industry as opposed to Volkswagen‘s “Clean Diesel” marketing campaign from 2008. In this case, we’re dealing more with false advertisements than a simple fallacy, as it was clearly misleading consumers. It turned out that the commercials included false claims that diesel engines don’t emit more airborne pollutants than gasoline-powered engines. In fact, in many millions of cars, the company installed devices that cheated emissions tests on purpose (because without them, it would be obvious that U.S. limits are heavily exceeded).

How to prove false advertising?

To ensure the safety of the digital ad environment, the industry giant – Google – decided to develop a range of rules that both publishers and advertisers have to abide by. The Publisher Policies and Restrictions are what digital creators monetizing their content with Google’s products have to be familiar with. When it comes to advertisers, Google Ads promotes clear advertising policies because they want users to trust advertisements they see on the internet. Advertisers who don’t comply with the guidelines may face penalties, which can even lead to their account suspension. Apart from ad creations’ content, there are some ad-related behaviors that Google doesn’t accept from ad creators – we can find it all in the Advertising Policies Help Center. As a publisher, you should be aware of which ads violate Google’s policies, for the only way to prove that an ad is inconsistent with these policies is to refer to a specific regulation. Here are examples of advertising practices forbidden by Google:

  • Unacceptable business practices include phishing techniques of trying to collect sensitive data about the users or presenting misleading pieces of information about the company, products, or services;
  • Coordinated deceptive advertising practices like hiding or altering an identity in coordination with other websites or accounts (when an ad refers to political or social issues and public matters). It’s forbidden to direct content regarding the above-mentioned topics to audiences from other countries when simultaneously hiding important identity-related details;
  • Misleading representation happens when advertisers announce false or incomplete claims, hiding important details about their identity, affiliations, or qualifications;
  • Dishonest pricing practices that mislead customers consist in giving false information about the payment process, or actual prices;
  • Clickbait Ads, as any sort of encouragement to click on an advertisement, with the use of, for instance, sensationalist text and images or the word “click” directly written;
  • Misleading ad design – users must be aware that they are looking at an ad (and not, for example, a system message or the website’s original content);
  • Manipulated media for the purpose of deceiving ad receivers, including fabricating political or publicly important content;
  • Unreliable claims, such as luring users with promises of unlikely results or simply making untrue statements, especially when they concern health (like weight loss) issues, financial services and products, or politics and social issues;
  • Unclear relevance, which means, among others, that ads don’t indicate properly what the user will be able to see after being redirected to the advertiser’s site. It can also involve using spamming keywords;
  • Unavailable offers, like offering products or services that are no longer available or were never sold at a certain price.
source: https://giphy.com/

What can a publisher do?

Publishers need to be vigilant about the content (including ads) displayed on their websites, as they are accountable for everything the user encounters there. For instance, if a malicious ad is displayed that redirects the user to a virus-infected website, causing damage to their devices, it’s likely that they will lose trust and will never return to the website. Even if displaying fallacies is less severe, choosing ads only from reliable sources is still necessary. Remember the saying “trust takes years to build and only seconds to break”!

  • You should be aware of Google’s (or other ad providers whose solutions you’re using) policies regarding fair advertising, so when bad ads appear, you will be able to tell them apart from the good ones;
  • It’s a good idea to regularly review your inventory and try to detect any suspicious behavior. When an ad that potentially breaks Google policies appears – you can take action by blocking it and later reporting it. It’s equally possible in the case of Google Ad Manager, AdSense, and AdMob;
  • Opt for a trusted monetization partner who will provide you with the highest quality solutions. It’s especially advisable to search for a Google Certified Publishing Partner like optAd360, who works only with reliable advertising suppliers!

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