Super Bowl XLVIII: Truth in Advertising

Super Bowl Commercials

Welcome to BBB’s first Super Bowl commercial analysis!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wasn’t really a big football fan until I moved to the Pacific Northwest; to be honest, the highlight of the Big Game for me was usually the commercials—yeah, I was that guy. But working in consumer protection has taught me to be more skeptical of commercials, and I believe that Better Business Bureau‘s original goal of combatting deceptive advertising is just as important today as it was 102 years ago.

Advertisers will go to great lengths to convey their message and promote their products or services, sometimes sacrificing honesty or transparency in the process. The good news is that most advertisers don’t deliberately try to deceive customers or fool people into making purchasing decisions; many simply do not realize that ads are deceptive or inaccurate until they are challenged by investigative agencies like the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ National Advertising Division. To make it easier for businesses to create honest ads and to educate shoppers about misleading claims, BBB offers the Code of Advertising—which I will be using as the baseline for this analysis as well.

So without further ado:

1)

This commercial from Volkswagen is pretty funny and I definitely enjoyed it, but my friends over at Consumer Reports make an interesting point: The car featured in this ad is a 2012 model, meaning that the driver would have to have logged 100,000 miles in approximately 18 months—while not impossible, pretty unlikely—and given the company’s poor product ratings and the fine print at the end of the ad, I’m not entirely sure that this commercial would pass Code #9: Layouts and Illustrations. Plus, is 100k miles really that impressive anymore? I would call that a pretty standard break-in period for just about any other auto…

2)

This commercial from Kia is another funny ad that I really liked. While humorous and visually-appealing, “luxury” is a highly-subjective term that is open to lots of interpretation. The implied superiority claim would probably pass BBB’s Code #13: Superiority Claims – Comparative Disparagement, but I think it’s a toss-up.

3)

This commercial from M&Ms could be challenged on the grounds of Code #14: Superlative Claims—I’m positive that Americans eat many different types of nuts—but a quick reference to the National Peanut Board indicates that peanuts certainly are “America’s Favorite Nut.” Touché, M&Ms. Touché.

4)

This commercial from Sonos shows colored waves of sound filling up rooms in a house and is extremely slick and fun to watch. But do you think it’s worth noting that every piece of hardware displayed in this ad must be purchased separately? How about the fact that many of the music streaming services that are pictured—Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Sirius XM—also cost extra? I would argue that Code #6: Extra Charges is probably violated in this commercial.

5)

“TV anywhere, any place, any time,” claims this commercial from Time Warner Cable, yet the long-winded disclaimer found at the bottom of the company’s website states that many services are not available in all areas. Should the commercial have mentioned that? According to Code #14: Superlative Claims: Subjective superlatives—or puffery—which tend to mislead should be avoided.

Deceptive advertising is any advertising that would be likely to mislead the “average” consumer, and while it would be tough to misunderstand most of these commercials, the point is to get you thinking. If I can pick apart a few ads that just aired on national television, what are the odds that deceptive ads are airing on local television stations in your town at this very moment?

Full Disclosure: Volkswagen of America, Inc and Kia Motors America, Inc are BBB AUTO LINE National Participants. Time Warner Cable is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Austin, Texas. Mars, Inc is a National Partner of BBB’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

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