by Jason Marcus Fink
Throughout the past decade, manufacturers have produced technology products with rapidly advancing capabilities even as their prices have consistently fallen. Because of these technologies' technical complexity and proliferation, consumers have experienced difficulties evaluating and comparing them. This has created the opportunity for some manufacturers and retailers to use deceptive advertising to make their products and services appear to have greater capabilities than they actually possess. Five of these common deceptions are (1) false claims of equivalency, (2) claims about a process or a result that cannot be measured, (3) the use of imprecise and immeasurable adjectives and adverbs, (4) claimed increases or decreases without a baseline, and (5) deceptive consumer surveys and statistical data.
In the first instance, manufacturers and retailers often falsely claim to provide you with something similar to what you want. Consumers who do not know the meaning of technical words or phrases that describe products or their capabilities must assume that those words or phrases have no value. For example, you know that you want a digital camera that records at least 2,000,000 pixels in resolution. You find a manufacturer that advertises that its digital camera has a "2,000,000 pixel CCD." A CCD is a charged coupling device that allows the digital camera to record images. Are you searching for a digital camera that has a "2,000,000 pixel CCD" or for a digital camera that records at least 2,000,000 pixels in resolution? Digital cameras record less resolution than the amount of pixels in their CCDs. The manufacturer understands that you are searching for a statement about 2,000,000 pixels and that you may not think to make a distinction between the amount of pixels in the CCD and the amount of pixels recorded in the image.
A second claim frequently made by manufacturers and retailers is that their products accomplish a process or a result that cannot be measured. For example, it is often difficult to measure an increase in productivity, optimization, integration, or efficiency with the use of a particular product. As a result, it is difficult to hold manufacturers or retailers responsible for deceptive statements they make about their products' abilities to increase your productivity, optimization, integration, or efficiency. A manufacturer might claim, for example, "Our new tax preparation software is the most efficient software in its class." But how can you measure whether the tax preparation software is the most efficient in its class? The manufacturer will always claim that its product complies with its advertising that promises "efficiency," regardless of the product's capabilities.
Third, manufacturers and retailers often use inherently imprecise words to describe their products' capabilities. For example, the words virtually, substantially, typically and usually are ambiguous by definition. Therefore, when they are used with a concrete statement that describes a product's capabilities, they will turn the otherwise concrete statement into an ambiguous one. Words in an advertisement are like links in a chain, and any deceptive statement in an advertisement functions like a weak link in an otherwise stron