Examples of Hyperbole in Advertising
There is a fine line separating deliberately misleading advertising claims and what is known as hyperbole, or "puffery." Deceptive advertising is grounds for disciplinary action, but the saving grace for hyperbole, as far as the Federal Trade Commission is concerned, is that a reasonable person would not believe it to be true. Marketing consultant Michel Fortin refers to the double-edged nature of hyperbole in advertising: On one hand, exaggeration can heighten the emotional resonance of a message, but take it too far and people write it off as sensationalist and unconvincing.
One of the hallmarks of hyperbole in advertising is the extensive use of superlatives such as "best" or "greatest" or "most." In the absence of definitive data, these attributes toot the company's horn without necessarily providing useful information or meaningful comparisons. Examples include Bayer Aspirin's claim that its product "works wonders," or Tony the Tiger's insistence that his cornflakes are "Grrrreat!" An automaker can claim to have designed the finest vehicle on the market, and yet the vaunting claim is not one that can objectively be proven or disproven.
Truth in advertising laws prevent advertisers from misleading the public, especially where health and safety are concerned. The Federal Trade Commission requires advertisers to back up their claims with evidence. Nevertheless, advertisers often use exaggeration to hype up their offerings and intrigue their audience. Church's Chicken, in one campaign, poked fun at the practice of inflating claims by taking an exaggerated claim -- the offer of free chicken -- and adding "almost" as a parenthetical aside. Acknowledging the promotion on a meta level, the chicken company distinguished itself from the hype machine.
In one commercial illustrating the detrimental effect of subscribing to its competitors, Direct TV showed people being attacked by turtles or hounded by inflatable balloons. The purported claim that "they are bad, we are good," though clearly tilted to ridiculous effect, could still be appreciated for its amusement factor. Viewers could get a chuckle out of it while acknowledging the tongue-in-cheek premise. Marketing consultant Jonathan Baskin suggests that these ads, while amusing, may not necessarily prompt people to buy -- and may even reinforce impressions of dishonesty.
In the world of advertising hyperbole, idyllic aspirations reign. People depicted in commercials and magazines are effortlessly youthful, virile, sexually desirable, ardent and strong. They share happy moments basking in the warmth and love of their families, and if they aren't having fun now, their use of the advertised product, whether that is a cologne or hair replacement cream, will seemingly lift them to new heights of pleasure and fulfillment. Fortin suggests that with hyperbolic claims, a dose of logic and explicitly stated reasons why you should buy the advertised product counterbalance the hype and boost credibility.