FTC Puffery Defined: The Last Stop Before False Advertising

FTC puffery
FTC puffery v. false advertising: what is the difference?

Promoting your business means bragging about your business, right? Absolutely. But, there’s a fine line between putting your best foot forward and misrepresenting the facts. We’ll cover the difference between false advertising and what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calls “puffery.”

What is Puffery?

So, what is puffery? Claims that can’t be universally proven.

Example: “We offer the best burgers in the world!”

The Federal Trade Commission does not censure businesses for making ambiguous statements like these because they’re obvious exaggerations.

Puffery Is A Claim That Can’t Be Universally Proven.

In general, puffery is a subjective claim about a product or service designed to promote it in a more positive light. Basically, the FTC doesn’t punish businesses for making general, positive statements about their products and services.

FTC Puffery vs. False Advertising

It’s one thing to say that you offer the “best, finest, or greatest” in your business, but it’s another thing to make blatantly misleading claims. So, what is the line between puffery and outright deception? Typically, statements which are general, broad and depend on a person’s preference fall under the definition of puffery.

However, specific, physically verifiable statements qualify as fraud. For instance, suppose a startup claims to have raised $2 million, and you were persuaded to buy in because of the assurance. If it turned out that it didn’t have $2 million in the coffers, the FTC would be banging on the company’s door.

Typically, statements which are general, broad and depend on a person’s preference fall under the definition of puffery.

What is the Effect of Puffery?

The effect of FTC puffery depends on how the consumer thinks they know about a product or service. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Robert S. Wyer, Jr. and Alison Jing Xu studied consumers’ reactions to advertising claims. They discovered that ambiguous statements were interpreted in two different ways:

  1. People who thought they knew less than others about a product viewed puffery as useful information designed for folks knowledgeable on the subject.
  2. People who have a higher perceived level of knowledge see puffery as useless filler.

The study also showed claims are perceived differently based on the context and type of product.

Get In Touch With A Marketing Lawyer About Your Puffery Questions

It’s acceptable to flatter yourself, but it’s not okay to lie. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s best to have your materials reviewed by a marketing attorney who understands the nuances of FTC puffery issues.

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