Every day we are hounded by advertisers and marketers to WEAR THIS! EAT THAT! DRIVE THIS! BUY THAT! And if we do - we can look like Halle Berry or jump like Michael Jordan.
These "promises", absurd as they seem, are often the brainchild of a marketing copywriter. The theme of this newsletter is how to make sense of marketing messages and become critical consumers.
How do we ensure that we are making the best decisions when we are showered by advertising and being influenced at an emotional and subconscious level? How do we learn to identify the way advertisers ply our emotions? How do we learn to become smart readers of advertising information, so we are not triggered by copywriters into making rushed and ill-informed decisions?
The answer is to become a critical marketing reader.
In previous newsletters, we learned critical reading and thinking techniques. These skills can be put to great use in a wide variety of ways and advertising material is no exception.
What follows is a quick summary of what we have covered so far in critical reading and thinking.
What makes a critical reader different from an ordinary reader?
Unlike ordinary readers, critical readers do not take everything they read to be facts. They realize what they read is one particular point of view and that it is often the author's goal to persuade the reader to accept this view.
Critical readers are able to separate the "real" information from the marketing hype - information which is valid and useful to their needs.
As covered in previous newsletters, critical readers are mindful of fallacies such as:
- Faulty perceptions: They avoid these by being mindful of stereotypes in their reading.
- Invalid assumptions: They constantly question their assumptions to ensure their validity.
- The power of words: They consider multiple meanings of words and the context in which the words are used.
- Faulty logic: They look at whether the argument is based on sound logic.
Critical readers know how to identify, reconstruct and evaluate arguments. They are aware that there are two different types of arguments i.e. inductive and deductive arguments and how to assess the validity of these different types of arguments.
Inductive arguments operate on rules of thumb. In an inductive argument, if the premise is true, it is probable the conclusion is true as well. The truth of an inductive argument can be ascertained by assessing the accuracy of previous observations and the strength of the causal relationship.
A deductive argument is more strongly linked in that, if the premise is true, it is certain that the conclusion is true as well. Deductive arguments are usually reserved to definitions and mathematical rules. The truth of a deductive argument can be ascertained by assessing whether the reasoning and premises behind the argument are logical.
Previous newsletters also looked at how to identify and combat common fallacies such as:
- Hasty generalizations: Critical readers avoid these by ensuring the reasons to support the conclusions are reasonable and sufficient.
- Loaded questions: Critical readers look for potential assumptions hidden in questions eg "Are you still failing maths?" automatically assumes that the person being questioned has failed maths.
- Post-hoc reasoning: Critical readers are aware that just because one event precedes another, the first event does not automatically cause the second event.
- Fallacious appeals: Critical readers are aware that just because an argument appeals to authority, common practices or traditions, promises positive consequences or threatens negatives ones this does not ensure its validity.
- Emotional appeals: Critical readers are mindful of avoiding the knee-jerk responses provoked by emotional appeals.
Adding to the information we already have on critical reading and thinking techniques we will now reveal some of the popular marketing writing techniques used to persuade you to accept what they say. These pointers will ensure you become a savvy, critical reader of advertising information.
1. Referring to experts, celebrities or reports
Just because Andy Roddick uses a certain tennis racquet, it does not mean that purchasing one just like his will improve your tennis skills! Claims that a product is supported by a celebrity, expert, or so-called authoritative report is often a marketing ploy. Critical readers will evaluate the credibility of these sources. For example, if a company claims its products are backed by a research report, it is worthwhile looking into the origins of this report. Check whether the research undertaken was independent or refers to reputable and credible sources outside the organization marketing the product.
[Page ^ Top ]
2. Threats of negative consequences
Marketers will often make statements which incite unnecessary worry or fear to make us believe we "need" their product. When threatened with undesirable outcomes, we often make poor and hasty decisions based on insufficient or invalid information. For example,
The average American will live to age 75. But tragic accidents can occur resulting in the premature death of the family breadwinner. This can leave the wife and children without financial support in those difficult times. The ACME life insurance will protect your family, no matter what.
Can you spot the fear-factor in this example? The fear of death ranks at the top of the list of fearful things. Do not become persuaded by a marketer's point of view just because they prey on such fears. Assess the information they present to see whether it is supported by sound logic and whether a real threat exists. One only needs to look at the plethora of anti-aging products on the market to witness how marketers have convinced people that aging needs to be remedied!
3. Use of "good" marketing words
Another persuasive marketing technique used to entice consumers is the use of certain "power" words. Treat words such as "more" and "new", eg. "50% More" and "new and improved formula" with caution. Bear in mind that many marketers investigate what people want to hear and then use it as a catch phrase. In many cases the phrase used is not even true for the product! Do not commit yourself into making a purchase until you have read more about the terms and conditions.
Food labelling is a particularly potent marketing trap in this instance. Many consumers are fooled into believing that "fat free" products are healthy. While these products contain very little fat, they are often packed with other fattening ingredients such as sugar and other simple carbohydrates.
Critical readers are aware that advertising material often contains these sneaky marketing words.
4. Use of numbers and statistics
While numbers and statistics are a good way to back up an argument, be wary when these tactics are used in advertising material. Marketers will often make claims such as "95% of participants in our clinical trial noticed a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles." Don't be so easily won over by these impressive-looking statistics. Often, the fine print at the bottom of a written advertisement will reveal that the "clinical trial" was only performed on a small amount of people - hardly scientific proof of the advertising claims.
5. Selling the dream
Another marketing trap is to entice consumers by promising impossible and unachievable results. Don't be fooled by the glitz and glamour of marketing. Be a critical reader and look carefully at the validity of the argument structures and supporting evidence. For example, reading products which promise to teach you to read at 25,000 words per minute are selling an impossible dream. By being a critical reader, you can see how outrageous these claims are - that means you'd be able to read and understand this entire article in approximately 3.5 seconds!
Marketing Pitfalls: The Test
You know the marketing pitfalls - now see if you can spot them. Look at the following examples of marketing copy. Think of the sorts of questions you should ask in order to check the validity of these claims, then check your understanding in the next section.
- Now 50% more effective as shown by scientific trials.
- According to an industry report on banking and financial services, our institution is the best place to go for a home loan.
- Travel to Hawaii for FREE with our special accommodation packages.
Marketing Traps: Questions to Ask
Here are some examples of questions you could ask to check the validity of the above advertising claims:
Now that you can spot the methods marketing companies use to grab your attention, you can read advertising information the smart way. Don't be bamboozled by marketers into being told what to do, what to wear or what to eat. Use your critical reading and thinking skills and cut through the marketing hype!
- What scientific trials are these? How many people were involved in the trials? Who conducted the trials - the organization selling the product or an external organization? What does 50% more effective actually mean?
- What sort of report is this? Who wrote it? Who commissioned it? Is there a potential conflict of interest? Are the research sources credible?
- What are the terms and conditions of the special accommodation packages? If you have to pay for the accommodation, is the trip "free"?
Try the RocketReader reading proficiency software FREE. Speed
reading, memory improvement and much more.
Try it now.
Reading skills test, Free
Are you a fast and effective reader? Test yourself online FREE, and get
INSTANT results: Test yourself now.
New! Develop a broad and powerful vocabulary. The ability to communicate correctly is vital for business and career success. RocketReader Vocab transforms your vocabulary by training you on a powerful set of words conveniently organized into 37 fun lessons.
Try it FREE.
Try it FREE.