Sales Speak and Trick Terminology

“What do you think of this ad?” my elderly cousin asked of me this past weekend. I won’t get into the product itself, but I could understand her interest, as the verbiage used ambiguity and well-chosen qualifiers to entice her, the reader.

“I’m not a lawyer,” I told my cousin, but the advertisement seemed to ride the fine edge of legal boundaries in order to be published in the magazine. I suppose some publications, more than ever these days, are desperate enough to do anything for a buck, as long as they are reasonably protected from litigation.

I know businesses have done this for many years, but this was a relatively respectable senior magazine, so I thought. Instead of using words implying any sort of guarantee that it would actually perform as expected, this advertisement used sales speak and trick terminology, such as “may,” “can” or “possibly” to describe the capabilities of their intriguing, but worthless product. In fact, reading it carefully, they actually made no promise or guarantee that the device would work at all. Even the four paragraphs of fine print – very fine print – at the bottom of the page disclaimed any “guarantee of performance” in a sentence of 96 words.

To further insulate themselves from liability, the company advertising their “wonderful” product, threw in the phrase, “based on proper usage and assembly.” I suppose the definition of that was clarified somewhere in that fine print too.

Of course, my cousin, as she read it with her nearly 79-year-old eyes, saw it from the opposite perspective. To her, she understood it to be a miracle device that would change her life and it was only $99.99. “Very affordable,” the advertisement read, “and now for under $100.” It should have technically read “for less than $100,” but that was just my journalistic arrogance emerging and, of course, beside the point.

For $150 or even $100, my cousin said she probably would not buy the product, but that one penny’s difference apparently placed it magically within the bounds of her budget, despite my own expectation that it would break within an hour after unwrapping the slick packaging which they had illustrated, again, if it ever were to work at all.

After explaining the verbal dog-and-pony-show to her, my cousin seemed to understand what I was expressing. Yet, after reviewing the advertisement on her own a second time, my cousin seemed more doubtful about my explanation as opposed to what she saw in print. In the end, I can’t be sure whether or not she placed an order and I sensed that, if I did ask, she wouldn’t tell me anyway, especially after our chat.


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