Ever looked at something on TV and marveled at the promises each product makes? Well, you’ve just been exposed to the Weasel Words style of advertising. Here’s how the strategy works.

Weasel words, or phrases, are used in marketing/advertising in order to avoid making a direct statement or promise. I.e. they are used as a way to say something that legally, or truthfully, cannot be said. They’re also used to make you think you’ve heard something that hasn’t actually been said, to accept as truth something which has only been implied, and believe things that have only been suggested.

Some of the commonly used Weasel Words are:

Sale – Often used in newspaper advertising flyers and at point of purchase in the store, “Sale” or “sale price” is intended to make you think that the product’s price has been discounted. But in reality, unless the original price is also displayed, “sale” simply means that this is the normal price that the product sells for.

Help – Often used with health and beauty products e.g. “Helps prevent cavities” “Helps make wrinkles disappear.” The word “help” simply means “assist” and nothing more. No advertiser can say: “Our product makes wrinkles disappear” so instead they qualify it with “help” and can say: “Our product helps make wrinkles disappear.” Our mind skips over the qualifier “help” and just hears “makes wrinkles disappear.”

“Helps prevent…”

“Helps fight….”

“Helps you look…”

Like – “Like” is a qualifier that has a comparative element to it. It is used to stop the consumer from looking at the actual product being sold and instead start thinking about something that is bigger, better, or different.

“It’s like getting another one free.”

“It’s like a vacation in Hawaii.”

“Cleans like a white tornado.”

“Like” is intended to make you believe that the product or service is more than it actually is by likening it to something else.

Virtual/virtually – This word just means “in essence” or “in effect,” but not in actual fact.

“Virtually never needs service”

“Virtually the same as”

“Virtually handmade”

Virtually” is interpreted by most people as meaning “almost or the same as….” But it really means “not in actual fact” so, for example, “Virtually never needs service” really means that it actually needs service.

Can be/may be – E.g. “Brand X can be of help in reducing cavities” or Brand Y may be effective in your weight loss program.” Can be/may be is basically saying that the advertiser doesn’t know if their product does anything.

Up to – This is used to imply an ideal situation but actually qualifies it. E.g. “Up to 50% off on our regular prices.” That could mean that discounts range anywhere from 0% to 50% – but they’ve got you in the store looking for all those 50% discounts.

Feel – This word expresses a subjective opinion. E.g. “This fabric feels like the finest silk.”Feels” like in this example is the advertiser’s opinion of their product. Counter “feels” by completing the thought – “This fabric feels like the finest silk – but it isn’t.”

*Images courtesy: Google Images; Featured image photo by Wojtek Witkowski on Unsplash

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