Tech Puffery's Greatest Offenders

Consumer tech and telecom companies have been exaggerating for years.

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We’ve all seen them: advertisements that make claims that in no way can be true but are still approved for broadcast over and over again.

Yes, these ads are lying to consumers, but companies do it in such a way that the claims are so hyperbolic that they become unverifiable. It’s a practice known as puffery, and it exists because the Federal Trade Commission ruled back in 1957, and reaffirmed in 1987, that consumers should be able to reasonably distinguish such claims as exaggerations.

Although puffery is frowned upon in some advertising circles, it still very much exists. Tech advertising is certainly not immune to it, as companies are constantly claiming their products as “state of the art” or “top of the line.”

State of the art, or cutting edge, simply means something is developed as best it can be during its initial making. That means a toaster from the ’80s is considered state of the art for its time, and frankly, probably still is, given there hasn’t been any big innovations in the toaster market in some time (unless you see a use for a wifi-connected toaster).

Top of the line has come to mean best quality, but it can also just mean most expensive. Beats Headphones are certainly “top of the line” in price but reviews would suggest they aren’t in quality.

Here are some of the best examples of tech puffery. Take heed so you can better identify and avoid their traps in the future.

Apple (and Friends)

The tech giant was sued over the ad above for its newly launched Siri A.I. assistant because, although Apple claimed Siri was “the coolest feature,” a “breakthrough,” and “an intelligent personal assistant,” consumers found that wasn’t quite the case.

Customers in the lawsuit claimed Siri was unable to answer questions such as “How do you play a B minor chord?” and “When is St. Patrick’s Day?” But U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken dismissed it as “mere puffery” in 2014. Since then, Siri has become better at answering such questions, but there are still plenty of times when the supposedly intelligent A.I. responds with a simple “I don’t understand.”

There’s also this ad claiming the iPhone 4 “changes everything again,” but does it really?

A 2011 ad from Apple for the iPhone 4 demonstrates some puffery.

Or how about this iPhone 6 ad touting the new phone as “bigger than bigger” when there are certainly bigger phones out there? Some wiggle here could be taken into consideration if we’re to assume Apple is talking about something more than the physical size of the phone.

This iPhone 6 ad uses puffery to claim it's the biggest phone on the market.

Either way, Sony played off of the ad for its smaller phone.

PC manufacturer ASUS has also taken puffery jabs at Apple. This ad was removed from Best Buy stores when the retailer realized iPads were going to sell far more than ASUS laptops.

An ad pulled from Best Buy stores attacking the iPad.

Gaming Consoles

Gamers may remember the flood of Playstation 3 ads claiming the console “Only Does Everything,” which obviously can’t be the case.

The slogan, “for the players,” became a little more grounded in reality with the release of the PS4, but the visuals of that ad got plenty outrageous in their own right.

Xbox isn’t immune to the puffery, either. A 2014 ad for the Xbox One used some Twitter hyperbole to promote its new console.

Microsoft uses some Twitter puffery to promote the Xbox.

Seems like a hefty claim…

Telecom Companies

Last year, Comcast went after DirecTV for its series of ads featuring the Millennial-beloved Rob Lowe. Comcast claimed that some of the messaging was false, namely the claims about customer satisfaction (something Comcast should know a lot about). Some of the claims included:

  • “With DirecTV you get 99% signal reliability.”
  • “With DirecTV you get 99.9% signal reliability.”
  • “DirecTV is #1 in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers.”
  • “DirecTV is ranked higher than cable for over 10 years.”
  • “DirecTV is the undisputed leader in sports, which means you can watch all the games you want to.”
  • “When it comes to sports, with DirecTV, you can have them all.”

The commercials were eventually pulled, even though DirecTV argued that the ads were reasonably hyperbolic.

Of course, Comcast shouldn’t be free of criticism in this field, either. The company has its own line of commercials that use a bit of puffery, claiming it has the “fastest speeds out there,” a claim many would refute.

Comcast: Fast internet speeds? Maybe. Fast to point the finger at cohort puffery with zero self-awareness? Seems like it.

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