The ethics of false or grandiose claims in advertising…

I just followed a link to a forum for business referrals. On it an individual has made an offer to provide a free video brochure for anyone who passes two business contacts who sign up for his video production service.

So far, so good. In the rubric of the posting he makes it clear that:

  • To date I have been working in the Defence sectors, but am now moving into local markets.


  • Unfortunately at the moment {the company} is just me and I am really stretched for time, what I am after is your business contacts for an introduction and for me to telephone and send video brochures, then follow up.


This is great. It is open and honest and, in my view, presents a very credible approach to the market.

However, when you follow the link to his corporate website (which is, incidentally, superbly produced and has clearly had a great deal invested in it), you find that it is uses “We” rather than “I”, he introduces himself as the “Managing Director”, and, most seriously, claims to have experience from Defence to Legal and “just about everything in between”.

Now, last week, Virgin Atlantic were penalised by the Advertising Standards Authority for the inaccuracy of some of their claims for their Premier class – seats were only really bigger on 2/3rds of the fleet, dedicated cabin crew were seen serving passengers in other classes, and so on. They were found to have breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness).

To my way of thinking (which I fully accept is only my own), I can’t help wondering whether the behaviour of the video producer is any more morally acceptable than that of Virgin Atlantic. It seems to me that, were there a body for internet ads to be referred to for adjudication, then a similar verdict would be passed.

And yet, how do start-ups promote themselves in an accurate way without grandiosity or false claims to experience that they aspire to but have yet to achieve? Some sectors seem to me to be highly aspirational in the claims that are made, while others stick very much to the facts and don’t attempt to distort things. Is this a reflection of the character of those who run them or of the sectors involved?

So, let’s all take a look at OUR advertising and ask ourselves whether our claims (implicit or explicit) are accurate or aspirational, grandiose or grounded.

Best wishes

NB This post originally appeared on my blog on March 23rd, 2008.

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