- July 9, 2012
- Posted by: Seth Heyman
- Category: Marketing & Advertising Law
The FTC has released a study finding that many consumers interpret advertising claims containing the phrase “up to” (as in “save up to 50%” to mean that they almost certainly will achieve the specified maximum results. The study compared consumers’ perception of advertisements for new windows that all contained savings claims. Each of the three ads contained one of the following claims:
- “Proven to Save Up to 47% on Your Heating and Cooling Bills!”
- “Proven to Save 47% on Your Heating and Cooling Bills!”
- “Proven to Save Up to 47%* on Your Heating and Cooling Bills!” (the asterisk referenced a disclosure stating “The average Bristol Windows owner saves about 25% on heating and cooling bills.”
When asked how they interpreted the claims made in the advertisements, 36% to 45% of consumers who viewed the ad containing the “Proven to Save Up to 47% on Your Heating and Cooling Bills!” claim believed that it stated or implied savings of 47%.
The researchers concluded that the consumers in the study did not distinguish between ads that included the “up to” language with ads that did not. Therefore, average consumers are likely to believe that they can achieve the maximum savings referenced any “up to” claim.
Properly conducted research produces a fairly wide range of potential results. Researchers typically apply formulae to determine average results under a range of circumstances Advertisers that conduct their own studies naturally reference the maximum result achieved, regardless of whether it was statistically significant.
The FTC has long held the view that advertisers making “up to” claims should be able to substantiate that consumers are likely to achieve the maximum results promised under normal circumstances, and the results of this study reinforces that view. Thus, if an advertiser surveys 1,000 consumers, and determine that one very lucky person saved 50%, while the rest save an average of 20%, the 50% savings is clearly a fluke or an error, and an advertiser should not even bother referencing it at all.