Exaggerating Product Benefits Can Find Marketers in Hot Water

An essential element of a marketing communications campaign is the need to craft a message that can capture customers? attention. This applies to all forms of communication, including messages contained in advertisements, what salespeople say when meeting with potential buyers, and even how public relations may post messages on social media.

One method for crafting a message that has been used for many years is the Features-Advantages-Benefits approach (i.e., FAB). Features are the key components of a product. For example, for a razor blade manufacturer, it may include a special type of metal blades. Advantages represent what a specific feature does. For instance, staying with the razor blade example, the advantage may be that the metal blades cut hair very easily. Finally, the features are what the marketer believes the customer ultimately obtains when using the product.? In our razor blade example, the message may state that users of the product will look better when in the presence of others. Thus, combining all three components of the FAB, the razor blade manufacturer may say: ?Our finely manufactured blades (feature) will give you a remarkably close shave (advantage) that will make you look great (benefit) when you meet that special someone.?

While the FAB approach is a hallmark of an effective marketing message, the ?B? part of this often creates problems. Some marketers are tempted to stretch the extent of their product?s benefits and make claims that may not be 100% accurate. In most cases, embellishing the benefits a product offers is not a big deal. For instance, a company selling windshield wipers may make the claim their product ?will make you feel really safe when the weather is bad.? Such a claim is relatively innocuous and will not be viewed as being potentially misleading. However, if the company says their wiper blades ?are by far the best blades you can buy and will protect you like no other blade,? than that just may draw attention. And that attention may come from government regulators, who may demand the company prove their claim. Those who face scrutiny by regulators for their benefit statements can also face major problems if they cannot prove it.

An example of a ?prove it? that did not go so well for a marketer can be seen in this story from the Washington Post. It reports on a $2 million fine imposed by the Federal Trade Commission on Lumosity, the makers of a so-called brain training product. According to the story, the FTC levied the fine because Lumosity mislead customers with its statements that their product improves brain function, including helping ?delay cognitive impairment associated with age.?? According to the FTC such claims were not supported by legitimate research.

So the lesson here is if you want to claim your product provides exceptional benefits, then you better be prepared to back this up with good data.