Honesty in Advertising Is a BBB Standard

Pace Logo Horizontal Honesty in Advertising Is a BBB StandardThe following slogans are from the old “Crazy People” movie: 

  • “Metamucil. It helps you go to the toilet. If you don’t use it, you get cancer and die.”
  • “Forget Paris. The French can be annoying. Come to Greece. We’re nicer.”
  • “Volvos—they’re boxy but they’re good.” 

In the film, Dudley Moore plays an advertising executive who gets so sick of exaggerating and flat-out lying for his clients that he starts—gasp—creating taglines he thinks are honest.

The subject of this blog, in accordance with PACE’s* character word of the month, is “honesty.” Let’s look at commercials a little more.

Shouldn’t advertising be factual? A lawyer defending Coke’s allegedly deceptive advertising in a 1906 case under the new Pure Food and Drug Act didn’t think so.

“Why, all advertising is exaggerated…nobody really believes it,” he claimed. This statement disturbed Coke management so much that a Truth in Advertising campaign was born. Which in turn led to the formation of the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB, now celebrating its 100th year, has its roots in business honesty. For many years, the BBB Code of Advertising has guided ethical businesses. Examples of how to use the word “free,” host emergency or distress sales, and use fine print are included. One tactic frowned upon by the BBB is “puffery.” This is an exaggerated claim that can’t be proven. For example, “Our mattresses are the best.”

The late Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor, President of the Chicago Rotary Club and inventor of the famous Four Way Test, famously rejected puffery in his company advertising. In 1932, the bankrupt company was trying to advertise its products as “the greatest cooking ware in the world.” Mr. Taylor looked at the ad copy and turned it down. “We can’t prove that,” he said. The ad was rewritten in a factual manner. Within five years, Club Aluminum had pulled itself into the red.

Puffery is everywhere these days. A particular computer game is “the most fun” or has “the best graphics.” A certain phone is “the most popular.” Should you believe it?

It’s no surprise that people prefer to do business with those who have a reputation for being honest. The Better Business Bureau asks all of our Accredited Businesses to promise to advertise honestly, and to tell the truth. It’s what our authentic Trust Seal on a webpage means. (Always click to be sure the seal links to a legitimate business review at www.bbb.org.) Click here to see our eight standards for BBB Accreditation.

 As we head into the huge furniture sales of President’s Day, remember: If you’re considering a purchase based on a commercial, can the claims in the ad be proven? Start with Trust by researching companies at www.bbb.org. We’ve been performing advertising review for 100 years and counting.

 PACE is a Spokane Valley grassroots initiative in which the schools, parents, kids, businesses and faith-based community come together to emphasize ethics and the importance of good character.

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.