05 Feb 2014, Posted by Bill Winters in Blog, 0 Comments Tagged , , ,

I am Guilty of False Advertising! And I’m Proud of it!

One day I arrived at my desk to terrible news. The Better Business Bureau had outlawed the ad I had conceived on behalf of my client. The ad had been challenged by a competitor and shown to be false advertising. If we could not prove the ad was accurate, we would have to cease running it.

We took the ad down. We were guilty.

Here’s how it came to be. And why it’s one of my proudest moments in advertising.

In the Outdoor Power Equipment industry, Chipper/Shredders were the all the rage. My client, Simplicity Manufacturing of Port Washington, Wisconsin, attempted to capitalize on the trend by buying a smaller company that manufactured them.

They gave us all the materials the company had historically used to promote their chipper/shredders and asked us to promote it.

We retouched the chipper/shredder in the photos to include the Simplicity logo and I pored over the print materials to figure out how to advertise this new product.

Deep in the print materials I came across the fact that led to all the trouble.  In my Eureka moment, I singled out the 20:1 reduction ratio claimed in the promotional materials. As I dug a little deeper and compared the fact to the competition, it was clear we had a strong competitive advantage.

I took the 20:1 reduction ratio to the creative team I had assigned to the project and asked them to build an ad around that fact. Because the media plan could only accommodate one half-page print ad, they artfully put together the ad you see above. Doreen Consiglio put together the compelling visual to convey the fact. Chris Hill gave it the clever headline you read.

Nicely done. It conveyed the primary consumer benefit – turning waste into mulch – and the primary competitive advantage – the 20:1 reduction ratio – in one concept.

The problem? It wasn’t true. One of the competitors, who had mentioned their own 9:1 reduction ratio in their materials, took exception to the fact that Simplicity was advertising a better statistic. They tested the product on their own and discovered that the chipper/shredder we were advertising had about a 9:1 reduction ratio – virtually the same as theirs.

They contacted the Better Business Bureau. Who contacted my client.

Alas. The competitor was right. We took down the ad, guilty of false advertising.

Of course, I’m not proud of breaking the rules. So, why am I proud of this story? Because the original manufacturer of the chipper/shredder had been advertising this fact FOR YEARS and no one had ever noticed. They had included the 20:1 reduction ratio as part of their advertising materials without impact.

It wasn’t until my creative team and I got ahold of this fact and turned it into a compelling print advertisement that the public noticed, the competition noticed, and eventually the Better Business Bureau noticed.

Did we learn from the experience? Sure. Fact checking is very important. Insisting to see and use a product before you advertise it is good practice. Never sacrifice good business for “speed to market.”

Is it the best ad I was ever involved in? No. It’s not the kind of ad that would win any trophies in advertising award shows. But I do hold it up as proof that when you get the product positioning right and turn it into a compelling creative concept you get attention. Even if some of the attention is the kind you don’t want.


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