DETROIT (WWJ) – An alarming ad for facial tissue made some profoundly questionable claims, per WWJ 950 research.
The population of Detroit is more than 680,000 — according to the latest census figures — and a full-page advertisement for Puffs, which ran in the Detroit Free Press Feb. 5, purports that last week 369,631 Detroiters had the flu.
Individual cases of flu infection are not tallied in Michigan, according to officials at the state’s health department…So how did Puffs come up with that number?
It’s unclear, though the company does have a “cold and flu tracker” on its website where it asks people to type in their zip code to get local data on the flu. The page urges them to “buy Puffs Plus Lotion today.”
The flu ad appears to have run in newspapers across the country; The ad from Philadelphia says there are more than 900,000 cases of the flu; the 2014 Boston Globe ad says 457,225 had the flu; in Hartford, Conn., 156,598 are stricken, per an ad in newspapers there.
WWJ Health Reporter Dr. Deanna Lites contacted Proctor and Gamble, the maker of Puffs, and got no reply. WWJ also contacted the company IMS Health, which provided the numbers per the small print on the ad, finding no answers there either.
This is not surprising, per University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Mike Bernacchi.
“I wish that I was surprised, more surprised,” he told Dr. Lites.
Bernacchi said ads appearing in local markets are always more susceptible to exaggeration than national ads, which are more closely regulated.
“I mean, the difference between a Super Bowl ad last Sunday and, you know, an ad in a newspaper, is millions and millions and millions of viewers — and you probably don’t take your chances on network and perhaps on TV ads,” Bernacchi said. “But maybe with newspapers you do take your chances.”
As for this Puff’s ad, in particular:
“It sounds outrageous, it sounds crazy, as a matter of fact,” Bernacchi said. “Is it a scare tactic? Of course it’s a scare tactic.”
Federal law does carry penalties for anything ruled false or misleading advertising, which say the “advertiser must have evidence to back up their claims.”
“The only issue regarding this is, really, who the heck is gonna hold them accountable to this statement? It is unlikely that consumers will hold them accountable…the ad industry, maybe,” he said.
When it comes to advertising, Bernacchi urges consumers to beware; and if something doesn’t seem right, ask questions.
“But really, it becomes the footwork of the media to put those feet under fire, you know, to make sure that truth is told,” he said. “And I think it’s ironic that Puffs is the advertiser, and we have an expression in advertising when there’s acceptable exaggeration — it’s called ‘puffery.'”
Is this a case of acceptable exaggeration? Bernacchi says, “absolutely not.”