Advertising gimmick - what's the name for this practice?

There is a commercial playing over and over on my sports talk radio station for Phaser (sp?) radar detectors (the commercial implies it’s a jammer too, but I don’t know about that).
Anyway, at one point during the commercial the narrator says “Phaser is SO POWERFUL that it has been BANNED in several states!!”. The commecial makes a clear implication that this device is so good/powerful that it has been singled out by several states to be outlawed. The reality is, of course, that those same states ban ANY device that can intercept/interfere with speed limit enforcement.

My question is what is this type of advertising technique called - where a statement that can be applied to any members of a given group is phrased in such a way that it SEEMS to only apply to a specific member of that group, making it better than the rest?

[designer who has some experience in the ad world here]

I don’t know if there is an actual “name” (like “blowback” or “spike” or “whizbang”) for what you’re talking about. Most of advertising does this on some level. It’s all about how far you can hype the product without actually being untruthful.

Refer to Monty Python’s “String” Sketch

I can’t help you with the term, i’m afraid, but the practice itself is pretty old.

I remember reading a book on early twentieth-century advertising and marketing*, and the book discussed an early toothpaste campaign in which one of the key selling points was that this particular brand of toothpaste worked as a breath-freshener as well as a tooth cleaner. Now, just about all toothpastes do this, but this particular brand was marketed as if it were the only one that did.

The use of a single, special characteristic like that in advertising is known as a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. I don’t know if there is a special term for when your USP is actually not unique at all.

*I can’t remember which book offhand. If you’re interested, you might like to look at some of the following:

Laird, Pamela Walker, Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing (Baltimore: JHU Press, 1998).

Lears, T.J. Jackson, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

Marchand, Roland, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Schudson, Michael, Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society (New York: Basic Books, 1985).

Susan Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989).

Tedlow, Richard, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York: Basic Books, 1990).

If it’s anything like the ax murder who, having killed his parents, asks the court for mercy on account of being an orphan, it’s called “chutzpah”.

BTW, it’s possible that the toothpaste i was thinking of was Colgate. I found this advertisement in Duke University’s magnificent online collection.

If you want to check out this amazing resource, go to the webpage of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History, and scroll down to the “Special Web Projects” section.

Speaking of toothpaste ads, i love this one.

An old advertising boss of mine called it “co-opting the market” as in, if you’re the first to make a claim, no one can make it later. I don’t think that’s an “offical” term, though.

Another famous example was a brewery that claimed “all our beer comes in steam-cleaned bottles” when steaming was the standard way of cleaning bottles at the time.

This is a variation on the “Unique Selling Proposition” notion that famed adman Rosser Reeves used to advocate. Find something unique about your product that you can claim as an advantage and push that notion as far as your can.

While Reeves was ethical enough to insist on finding a truly unique proposition about the products he touted, others have found that it’s nice if the proposition is truly unique, but as long as you’re the only one who is pushing it any claim can be made to sound unique to the buying public.

You can also think of it falling under the more general category of
puffery, although puffery is usually associated with claims like “World’s Greatest Cheeseburger”.


I have no idea. but it was used qute a bt during te Great Cholesterol Scare of the early 1990s. Plain old cereal, bottled water, baked goods … many labels of such products made a big deal about being “CHOLESTEROL FREE!”

Claude Hopkins was the fellow who did the “steam cleaned bottles” deal.

To answer the original question, while Rosser Reeves did “invent” the term, USP, I think this first came into print in “THE BOOK OF ADVERTISING TESTS” - Lord & Thomas, 1912.

John E. Kennedy called it “Pre-Empting”

Of course, the technique is as old as the hills, really.


(Still looking for a copy of Ogilvy and Mather’s PRINCIPLES OF MANAGEMENT, Darn it!)

One of Bennett Cerf’s books told a story of a salmon canner who couldn’t sell his product because it was white (unlike most salmon, which is pink).

He hired a sneaky, tricky ad company, who added the following claim to the label:

This salmon is guaranteed not to turn pink in the can

I don’t know what this has to do with the OP, but someone mentioned chutzpah.

I looked on and I think the best fit would be the method of intentional vagueness.

Intentional vagueness: Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application

The Phaser commercial wants the audience to assume that its product is special because it is banned, and just leaves out the fact that it’s not all that special.

(in Australia)

WE (Asshat, Inc) WILL PAY YOUR GST UP TO 1st JUNE 2001!

Oh yeah, that wacky Goods and Sales Tax that’s not even implemented until June 1st, 2001. Why not say: “WE WILL PAY 100% OF THE MUNICIPAL STATE GOVERNMENT FEDERAL COMMONWEALTH PRODUCE TAX - FOREVER”, the point being there’s no such goddamn thing.

I think a funny thing would be to package lard as “99% FAT, FREE”, and then the other 1% (which is, I’m sure, still fat) costs the entire money. It’s technically true, oh ho ho ho.