Table of Contents
- 1 What are advertising fallacies?
- 2 Why do advertisers use fallacies?
- 3 14 fallacies in advertising
- 3.1 1. Ad hominem
- 3.2 2. Appeal to emotions
- 3.3 3. False dilemma
- 3.4 4. Appeal to the people
- 3.5 5. Scare tactic
- 3.6 6. False cause
- 3.7 7. Hasty generalization
- 3.8 8. Red herring
- 3.9 9. Traditional wisdom
- 3.10 10. Appeal to popularity
- 3.11 11. Halo effect
- 3.12 12. Slippery slope
- 3.13 13. Distribution fallacy
- 3.14 14. Division fallacy
October 5, 2021
Several industries use advertisements to capture the attention of customers and clients. Effective advertisements not only attract the attention of potential customers, but they can also persuade customers to invest in a business’s products or services. Some advertisements may use logical fallacies as part of their persuasive strategy, so knowing some common fallacies used in marketing may help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases. In this article, we define advertising fallacies, explain why advertisers use them and outline 14 fallacies commonly used in advertising.
What are advertising fallacies?
Advertising fallacies are logical flaws that advertisements use to persuade potential customers to buy a product or service. To convince viewers to purchase a product, advertisers may state that their product or service benefits their customers. However, this statement may contain logical distortions, inaccuracies or contradictions that can make that statement untrue or invalid. Some fallacies may be more subtle than others, and they can be powerfully persuasive devices when effectively applied in marketing.
Related: The Parts of an Argument (With Definition and Examples)
Why do advertisers use fallacies?
Advertisers use fallacies to appeal to their customers, as not all advertisements require definitive logic to state how their product or service offers value. Instead, advertisers often use fallacies to promote a particular feeling or attitude in their customers toward a product, service, business, organization or even a competitor. By promoting positive feelings toward their business’s products, advertisers may persuade customers to purchase them.
Related: 20 Marketing Tactics That Work and How To Use Them (With Examples)
14 fallacies in advertising
Here are some common fallacies used in marketing along with examples of each:
1. Ad hominem
An ad hominem argument appeals to customers by creating doubt around the credibility of a competitor. The Latin phrase “ad hominem” translates to “against the person,” meaning that this kind of fallacy aims to discredit an individual or cause others to question their authority, trustworthiness or character. In marketing, it may focus on invalidating a competitor or their business rather than the products or services they provide.
Example: Greg and Charlie each own a diner in the same town. Although they provide similar services, Greg reminds his potential customers that Charlie doesn’t take part in community events as often as Greg does. Therefore, Greg states that customers should choose his diner over Charlie’s because Charlie doesn’t volunteer in the community as much as Greg.
2. Appeal to emotions
Appeals to emotion focus on eliciting a particular feeling in a viewer, even if those feelings have no logical basis. This is a common marketing tactic, and advertisers may use this fallacy alongside others in a marketing campaign. Some feelings advertisements may attempt to elicit include:
Example: An ice cream parlor advertises their old-fashioned root beer floats by claiming they’re “just like our grandmother used to make.” Even if customers haven’t yet tried the root beer float, this advertisement appeals to customers’ feelings of nostalgia for the product.
Related: 10 Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies (With Examples)
3. False dilemma
A false dilemma inaccurately limits the number of choices available to a customer and suggests they choose from the restricted options. Advertisers may present a false dilemma as an “either-or” statement. This creates a scenario in which a customer feels they should either embrace the advertiser’s offering or settle for a lesser option.
Example: A fast-food restaurant claims, “Either you’re eating our hamburgers, or you’re settling for second-best.” This creates a false dilemma that positions the restaurant’s burger in opposition to every other burger that might exist in a certain community.
4. Appeal to the people
This fallacy argues that something is true because most people believe it. In advertising, this appeal suggests that because most people believe something is true, the customer should also believe it’s true. The appeal to the people fallacy is similar to the appeal to popularity fallacy, but the appeal to popularity fallacy relates more to what people are currently doing rather than what they believe.
Example: A chain pizza restaurant claims they conducted a poll in which 95% of participants believed their pizza used higher quality ingredients than a competitive chain. Because the advertisement states that many people believe in the high quality of the chain’s ingredients, customers may believe—without having tried the pizza—that the ingredients are delicious.
5. Scare tactic
A scare tactic is a type of emotional appeal that uses fear to convince customers to purchase a product or service. This tactic often advertises a scenario in which a threat endangers something for which most customers care greatly. It then often presents a product or service as a solution to minimize the risk or eliminate the threat. This is a fallacy because it assumes that there is a threat or a risk to the customer with no evidence that a threat legitimately exists.
Example: A home security company airs a commercial in which a burglar breaks into someone’s house while their children are home alone. This commercial appeals to the viewer’s fear that their children may be in danger and offers their product as a solution to address that fear.
6. False cause
A false cause fallacy assumes that because two events correlate, they share a cause-and-effect relationship. This is a fallacy because two events or outcomes may happen simultaneously but may be unrelated to each other. Advertisers may use this fallacy to argue that their product creates a positive outcome for a customer when it’s actually the situation or context in which the customer uses the product that creates the positive outcome.
Example: A wellness company states that using their essential oil blends in your bath reduces stress and increases wellness. Although the essential oils may contribute to an atmosphere of relaxation, they may not inherently cause stress reduction and increased wellness.
Related: 10 Essential Critical Thinking Skills (And How To Improve Them)
7. Hasty generalization
A hasty generalization draws conclusions from an incomplete set of information. This type of fallacy may result in claims solely based on limited evidence. It may also result in claims without consideration for counterarguments or by only considering evidence that supports its claims. In advertising, a hasty generalization may exaggerate a claim about the effectiveness of a product or service without including definitive evidence to prove the stated effectiveness.
Example: A company that manufactures athletic shoes highlights how a famous tennis player wore their brand of tennis shoes when she won a gold medal at the Olympics. They argue that aspiring tennis players should wear their shoes because they’re the best option for winning tennis tournaments.
8. Red herring
A red herring fallacy presents an irrelevant piece of information that distracts the viewer from the key point of an issue. Advertisers may use this tactic to discredit a competitor by emphasizing a flaw or issue that’s unrelated to the function or effectiveness of a product or service.
Example: A baker argues that their business has offered vegan and gluten-free options for ten years while their competitor has only just started providing these choices. Although both bakeries now cater to those who prefer vegan and gluten-free options, the baker uses a red herring to direct their customer’s attention to a less relevant factor that differentiates their business from their competitor’s.
9. Traditional wisdom
This fallacy focuses on the assumption that because something was true in the past, it also applies to the present. In advertising, this fallacy can appeal to a customer’s sense of nostalgia and tradition or their belief that doing something consistently for many years or generations proves its validity.
Example: The owner of a local restaurant advertises that three generations of his family have owned and operated the establishment. He appeals to his customer’s sense of tradition and nostalgia by advertising that he still uses his great-grandmother’s recipe for sweet potato pie, which may or may not actually be a tasty recipe.
10. Appeal to popularity
An appeal to popularity, which some also call a bandwagon fallacy, argues that customers should purchase a product or service because everyone else uses it. The popularity of a product alone may not validate its value, but this fallacy creates an assumption that if many people use a product, it must be effective.
Example: A commercial for a brand of toothpaste claims that “four out of five dentists prefer our brand.” This statement appeals to the idea that the toothpaste brand is popular with experts in dental health.
11. Halo effect
The halo effect is a type of generalization in which a company leverages its positive reputation in one domain to argue for its effectiveness in another domain. Advertisers may use this fallacy to convince customers to purchase other products or services after the success of an unrelated product or service.
Example: A technology company developed a popular personal music player and uses its brand awareness to advertise their brand of headphones. Although there is no evidence that their headphones are better than other brands, their positive reputation encourages customers to purchase their new product.
12. Slippery slope
A slippery slope fallacy argues that if an outcome of a sequence of events is bad or negative, the original event and idea for its inception was also bad. The slippery slope effect becomes a fallacy when there is no evidence or logical explanation to support why a sequence of events occurred. In marketing, advertisers may use this strategy to invalidate a competitor’s event or product, or they may use it as part of a scare tactic to convince a customer that their product or service may prevent a slippery slope.
Example: A commercial for a device that helps correct someone’s posture portrays a sequence of adverse events. It begins with a woman rubbing her sore neck that resulted from her poor posture, and by rubbing her neck, she accidentally spills a glass of juice on the floor. Then, before she can clean up the spill, her daughter runs through the puddle, slips and falls. Although it’s highly unlikely that the customer may experience this exact sequence of events, the advertisement promotes its product to prevent the woman’s sore neck and the subsequent events.
13. Distribution fallacy
A distribution fallacy is another type of generalization fallacy. It attributes the characteristics of en entire thing to its parts. In advertising, this fallacy may function similarly to the halo effect. If a brand has a positive reputation, customers may assume that it upholds that reputation in every aspect of its brand.
Example: A brand has a positive reputation for promoting an environmentally friendly message in its advertising. Since customers associate the brand with taking an environmentally conscious stance, they may assume that the business adheres to a strict standard of clean production regarding how it manufactures, packages and transports its products.
14. Division fallacy
The division fallacy is the opposite of the distribution fallacy. With the division fallacy, customers assume that the parts of a business reflect the characteristics of the entire business. They may generalize the reputation of a particular product or department within a business to the reputation of the entire business.
Example: A company states that it uses environmentally friendly methods for manufacturing, packaging and transporting products to protect the environment. Customers may assume that the business uses these methods because they value the environment, but the brand may actually have a different reason for using these methods, such as these methods being cost-effective.
Discover Indeed’s top resources for sales talent including career advice, sample resumes, job search quick links and more.