Boatright (2007) defines advertising as “a paid non-personal communication about an organization and it’s products that is transmitted to a target audience through a mass medium” (p. 272). Unfortunately, this definition is a bit too broad and includes other forms of promotion such as advocacy advertising. This kind of advertising, promoting a cause or idea, is generally considered social marketing. The kind of promotion usually associated with advertising mainly involves selling a product or service. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of product advertising has led some unscrupulous advertisers to participate in deceptive and manipulative advertising practices (Boatright, 2007).
Deception in advertising is the practice of product advertising that removes the ability for the consumer to make a rational choice. The key to determining deception is that the interference with choice must be substantial. In other words, if advertising makes claims that are easy to disprove, then the interference is not substantial. Additionally, if the advertising affects an important aspect of consumers’ lives, then the advertising must adhere to higher standards of credibility. As Boatright (2007) points out, it is more important to avoid the generation of false beliefs in advertising for life insurance than chewing gum (p. 275). The main problem with deceptive advertising is catching it.
In 1997, Microsoft released version 4 of its Internet Explorer web browser. Shortly after release, Microsoft issued a press release that claimed there had been one million downloads in the first two days of availability. At the time, Microsoft was waging a virtual war with Netscape for control of the web browser market. The sudden popularity of Microsoft’s latest web browser would surely create a public buzz about the product and attract more interest. Unfortunately, in 1999 Microsoft claimed that downloads of Internet Explorer 5 had set a new adoption record of one million downloads in five days. When confronted with the disparity, Microsoft admitted that the Internet Explorer 4 numbers from 1997 included other parts of the Internet Explorer product. In truth, no where near one million downloads had actually occurred (Gillmor, 1999). Although this act of deception by Microsoft was not enough to warrant an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it does illustrate the relative ease with which advertisers can deceive consumers.
Boatright, J. (2007). Ethics and the conduct of business, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Gillmor, D. (1999, June). MC: Technology Marketing Intelligence, Retrieved June 16, 2008, from Computer Source database.