Is there a specific term to describe an advertising slogan that actually makes you less sure about that aspect of the product?
July 3, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Is there a specific term to describe an advertising slogan that actually makes you less sure about that aspect of the product? Examples inside.

- Vegan soy cheese often advertises that it has "excellent melting properties," when in fact that message is a guarantee that the cheese will not get gooey and delicious but just separate into a puddle of slime. At least, I assume that's the case; I've never bought the stuff.
- "Crush-proof boxes" for cigarettes are easily crushable.
- Classroom bulletin board paper is often advertised on the box as being "fade-proof" when in fact the brightly-colored paper is usually looking pasty by October.

I'm sure there are many other examples.

I'm not so concerned with the idea that the advertisers are lying -- I mean, we all know that -- but am more interested in the fact that advertising these elements actually draws the consumer's attention to the negative quality that the advertisers are trying to cover up. For instance, I would think I would be much more likely to try some vegan cheese if it didn't advertise its excellent melting properties.

Is there a term for this phenomenon? I'm looking for something more specific than "irony" or "lying" if it exists. Thanks!
posted by HeroZero to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In many cases, as when foods advertise some mostly irrelevant health property "McDonalds is now Trans-Fats FREE!" I think of that as damning with faint praise.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:17 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I guess for the kind of language you're talking about, I don't totally agree with your premise, because I think your examples are language that brands would use to attempt to get a leg up on their competitors. If you're standing at the vegan cheese case, the brand with the empty promises of magical victory over a product-wide failing sounds better than the one that's not even acknowledging it.

So, Empty Promises? Wishful Marketing?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2008

I'm not sure if there is a word covering what you're looking for, but this:

In many cases, as when foods advertise some mostly irrelevant health property "McDonalds is now Trans-Fats FREE!" I think of that as damning with faint praise.

is quite different. The stuff the OP is talking about are things that are technically true, or true in specific circumstances, but effectively false in common practice (I came across this post regarding the phenomenon in politics, and they don't seem to have a phrase).

Your example, AV, is more of a classic obfuscation. McDonald's is saying their food does not contain trans-fats, which is true, but ignores all of the other kinds of fat, complex carbs, salt, sugar, and preservatives that are as bad, if not worse, for you.
posted by mkultra at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2008

Not sure if there's an actual word to describe it, but I always thought of these ads as "horny, but impotent".
posted by grippycat at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2008

Muffin Top Marketing?
posted by dsword at 11:37 AM on July 3, 2008

Like "Fresh Seafood," which leads my mind to wander to, "God, I hope it's fresh... What if it's not...? Maybe I'll just go across the street and grab a burger." One step better is the place that advertises "Fresh" Seafood, leading to grammar snobs like me being very concerned about the quotes and why they're there. And best of all is the place that, I swear, one day took the "Fresh" down from their Fresh Seafood sign.

More to the point, I've never heard a phrase for these things, but would strongly lobby for grippycat's "Horny, but impotent" being adopted.
posted by fogster at 11:47 AM on July 3, 2008

This seems really closely related to the tendency for rules to be created to restrict people from doing things that have caused problems in the past. As an inadvertent byproduct of telling people that they must never squeeze the Charmin, you alert them to the fact that the Charmin could be squeezed and some personal benefit realized from said squeezing. It's sort of the reverse of "Security through obscurity." I don't know of an existing term, but maybe "Vulnerability through verbosity?"
posted by contraption at 12:02 PM on July 3, 2008

I've only heard it as an accidental alert, as in, "We can't put 'Better Tasting' on the can! That's an accidental alert to people who've never tried it. Let's go with, 'New, full-bodied recipe' if we can squeeze that in the character count." But I don't think it's a universal. The industry is phenomenally good at coming up with terms that only exist within a particular agency.

I taught advertising copywriting for years - and have read far too many books about it - and I can't think of an official term for it except 'bad'.

The Charmin example is a "temptation sell", but there's no temptation in "now it melts!"
posted by Gucky at 12:50 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

One step better is the place that advertises "Fresh" Seafood, leading to grammar snobs like me being very concerned about the quotes and why they're there.

As someone who's written for shelf-stable salsa and beer, be more afraid of "the fresh taste" or "fresh tasting" than scare quotes. Legally, quotes don't do a thing. The difference however between "Chocolatey topping" or "rich chocolate taste" vs. "chocolate" is huge.
posted by Gucky at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is really just-another-thing marketing. It's an old product but there's a new concern. So if I sell peanuts, I used to just have to put peanuts in a jar, right?

Then, for years, I was selling Parmanparman's Peanuts.

Then, people started watching their waistlines and my peanuts become "A Low-Calorie Food!" and "5 grams of protein in every serving!"

Then, people were worried about trans fats and I could add "Zero Trans Fats - Our Roasted Peanuts are NEVER fried!"

Then, people went all organic and I changed the label to include a graphic of a bunch of peanuts still on the root and I could slap on "A Natural Snack"

Then, people were worried about freshness and I could say "Packed Fresh to Stay Fresh"

These are all examples of a company trying to keep up with perceived socio-political pressures. It's not rocket science, it's just another way to catch your eye.

You have to remember that most products get approximately three seconds of attention from a consumer unless they remember something that they were told.
posted by parmanparman at 12:57 PM on July 3, 2008

I'd guess that Gucky is right in that these advertisers are probably either pointing out some improvement that has been made in their product (consumers complained that it didn't melt well so they made some changes to try to make it more meltable, or less crushable, or less fade-able, or whatever) or they are trying to differentiate their product from others in the same category.

Of course all products in a general category are going to tend to have the same failings, so in pointing out the failings of their nearest competitor, they are reminding you about their own likeliest failing as well.

One term for this is "unintended consequence".
posted by flug at 1:04 PM on July 3, 2008

An example I see all the time, especially on AT&T commercials: "Connected at mobile broadband speed."

When they say MOBILE broadband instead of just BROADBAND, I assume they mean SLOW.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2008

Thinking a bit more, "orwellian" is somewhat close--in the sense of saying things like "War is Peace" which is intended to manipulate meaning of words for propaganda purposes.

"Exaggeration" is of course part of what you are saying, and also "marketing speak".

But what it seems you are particularly getting at is marketing speak or an exaggeration that has the unintended consequence of actually bringing attention to the defect it was intended to cover up.

I don't know of a single term that covers that concept. It's certainly a type of catch-22!
posted by flug at 1:20 PM on July 3, 2008

If there's no perfect word, might I suggest "satisfectellent"?
posted by zippy at 2:25 PM on July 3, 2008

Sounds like the exception that proves the rule.
posted by mendel at 2:29 PM on July 3, 2008

posted by iviken at 2:25 AM on July 4, 2008

The practice of pointing out something "wrong" or that would otherwise be commented on by the controller of the thing is called Hanging A Lantern, or Lampshade Hanging in the film industry.
posted by softlord at 7:21 AM on July 4, 2008

Lampshade hanging seems more like Avis's "Number 2 -- we try harder," which is close, but it seems to me like it's a different flavor from "this fake cheese actually does melt, we swear." It's the difference between calling attention to a flaw purposefully or accidentally.
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:21 PM on July 5, 2008

The first couple of paragraphs of this 2000 posting by Joel Spolsky talk about the same thing. He refers to it as "proof by repeated assertion."
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2008

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