Why you should not use ‘alternative facts’ in advertising

alternative facts in advertising

Alternative facts is just one of the new phrases surfacing during 2017. Fake news, alt-facts, exaggerations – call it what you will, they are essentially all untruths.

So what does this have to do with advertising?

Facts and claims in advertising

How often have you questioned bold claims you’ve seen in advertising?

The number 1 product…

The best…

The leading…

8/10 cats prefer it…

Consumers have sadly become weary trying to work out the genuine from the overstated claims, as they have seen them so many times. They have become blind and deaf to questionable comparisons and exaggerated claims.

The Advertising Standards Authority

Here in the UK the accuracy of advertising is policed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).  Their code of conduct states that “advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.”

Anyone can make a complaint about an advert on that grounds that it is misleading or offensive. 70% of the complaints they receive each year are about adverts that have misleading claims which demonstrates how astute consumers are.

If the ASA rule in the complainant’s favour the advertiser will be asked to remove or change the advert but you will also suffer reputational damage as the ASA publish their rulings for all to see.

Alternative Facts in Politics

Interestingly the ASA doesn’t cover political advertising in the UK, so they aren’t able to consider complaints about the claims made in the UK Referendum campaign, for instance.

Many voters would argue that alternative facts were widely used in publicity and advertising for that campaign, including the claim that the UK sends the EU 350 million pounds each week. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was said to be considering that claim, alongside one that Nigel Farage incited racial hatred for his role during the campaign.

Clearly, although there is no formal regulation, voters and consumers are keen not to let the tellers of untruths or alternative facts get away with it.

Honesty in advertising

As marketers, we have a duty to ensure what we’re sharing with our customers is accurate information that truly reflects our brand, product or service. Misleading the consumer may allow a quick response and sale, but ultimately will damage your brand and likelihood of repeat business.

Why is honesty so important in advertising? It matters because today’s customers are highly literate, discerning consumers who can see through the hype. Should your product not live up to the claims in your advertising they will be quick to share their thoughts in ratings and reviews that will damage your chance of future sales.

Don’t lie or hide facts to make your product seem more appealing. Your consumer will find out the truth as soon as they start using your product.

If you’re hoping to establish any form of brand equity or product loyalty you need to treat your consumers with the respect they deserve. Marketers need to communicate honestly and with clarity, establish a relationship based on mutual understanding of benefits of your product, and make sure that they respect and continue to listen to consumers over time.

It can take years to build trust in a brand, and very little time to lose it.

If you’re using claims like those above in your advertising, then make sure you can reference the source and back them up.

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Roisin Kirby is an experienced Marketing Consultant based in Nottingham (UK), specialising in education and services marketing. A Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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