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False Advertising

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Have you ever felt cheated or swindled by advertising? Perhaps you bought a product or used a service, yet neither was like the initial claims advertised? Perhaps a product or service didn't even come remotely close to meeting your expectations? Perhaps a product or service completely failed to deliver on its promises? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, then you may have been the victim of false or misleading advertising.

Misleading advertisements have enormous psychological potential. The right ad can influence consumers into commercial purchases that they might otherwise avoid. Hence governments enact and enforce laws in an attempt to limit such deception. Unfortunately, in many cases, false advertising falls into a grey zone, with the information or practice somewhat misleading yet not outright illegal. For example, some discount stores run perpetual sales. In other words, the sale, which by definition is a short-term event, becomes more or less permanent. Psychological pricing is another example, such as a product priced at $100.00 and another at $99.99. Although the difference in cost is marginal, the former appears significantly more expensive.

Another problem comes with the terms used, especially when they cannot be defined or measured. Some words sound great, but in fact carry little tangible meaning. For example, what precisely does "premium" mean? Or how about "deluxe" or "light?" Therefore, is "deluxe ice cream" better, worse, or the same as "premium ice cream?" Does a "light pasta dinner" carry more, less, or the same amount of calories as a "diet pasta dinner?" Because the terms aren't clear, consumers have no real way of measuring quality or quantity.

Then there are product testimonials. Although the reviews look as though they come from ordinary people, the testimonies have in fact been bought. In many cases, the people have never even used the product or service. Average consumers have no way to know if the product really deserves the positive comments of the testimonies.

However, there are actions which fall outside the grey zone. In almost all cases, in almost all countries that regulate advertising, these have been deemed illegal. One such problem is bait and switch, which also falls under fraud. A company advertises a product or service at a very, very low price, even an unprofitable price, which of course lures in customers. However, the product is no longer available, or is pushed aside as inferior in favor of another, more expensive product. A hard sale often persuades the customer to make the more expensive purchase.

Advertising has a hard enough task of causing customers to take action, namely to make a purchase. Unfortunately, some practices overstep the line, raising questions as to their truthfulness. 


Step 1: You will listen to an article about false advertising. The article is four minutes long. Listen only, and don't worry about understanding everything.
Step 2: Read and understand the questions, then listen again. As you are listening, try to answer the questions in your head, but don't write the answers yet. Next, listen again and write the answers this time. Check your answers with a partner.
Step 3: Read the article. Check in your dictionary any unknown words. Now listen again. Can you understand more?
Step 4: Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to the article on the train or in your free time. Each time you listen, you will slowly improve!

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