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Small women, false impressions and advertising

The BBC reported that UK discount furniture retailer DFS had been censured by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for superimposing images of people on room settings featuring its sofas, with the person’s image downscaled relative to the size of the sofa, making the sofa look bigger. I’ve suspected similar tricks in NZ, even in the same product category. Another advertising tactic is to use very small people, creating an impression that the product is bigger than reality. Take a careful look next time you see an ad for  a hatchback car.

I am amazed that some businesses think this is a smart tactic:

  • As the BBC reported, some customers would be put off if the product looked too big.
  • Others may spot the trick in the ad and decide not to do business with the deceptive vendor.
  • When customers see the actual product, they may be disappointed by its actual size, and move on to another store.
  • Having seen the reality, some will feel deceived and refuse to deal with the business.

Either advertisers adopting this tactic hope that making the product bigger will draw more buyers, or they are engaging in bait-and-switch, hoping that customers will switch their purchase to a bigger, more expensive product. Either way, the practice is unethical.  Bait-and-switch is illegal in many jurisdictions. But even if it isn’t illegal, it’s not a smart tactic if you want to stay in business over the long term. You want customers to trust you, to buy from you again, and to tell their friends and family about your great offer. Some people will fall for bait-and-switch, but some won’t. 1 satisfied customer tells 3 people, 1 dissatisfied customer tells everyone they meet.

 DFS said that they didn’t do it deliberately. I expect someone also said that the ad agency did it without their approval. As the Tui beer billboards say, “Yeah, right!”

First posted December 4th, 2008