There's an advertisement on the radio at the moment that explains how a guy named Brian saved four hundred pounds (in money, not weight) on his car insurance by using some price comparison website. Most people I know only pay around half that amount in premiums, so is this a realistic claim? Perhaps you have to pay the first ten thousand pounds of any claim, or are covered only when the car is parked in the garage.
The rules for advertising here in the UK insist that adverts reflect the experience of the majority of people, and are realistic and true, so we can assume that Brian must be just some ordinary guy with an ordinary car. Or rather, that Brian is a very stupid ordinary guy who never bothered to get a quote from other companies in the past and was happy being fleeced. The alternative is that the company chose specific criteria and found somebody who, with some unspecified insurance company, would get a very cheap quote.
The point is that the vast majority of people will not save anywhere near this amount of money when using the site to find an insurer with approximately the same terms and levels of cover. In my experience, saving even fifty pounds is very unusual, and I change insurers almost every year to get the best price. In other words, the headline comparison is, to be blunt, complete balderdash.
It's amazing that, in many other areas of advertising, they wouldn't stand a chance of getting away with this. ISPs that offer broadband services have been hammered here in the UK for advertising unrealistic "up to" speeds, such as "up to 24 MB", that most people will not achieve. Mind you, furniture stores can still get away with advertising a sofa as being 50% off when a cursory examination of the quality will reveal that there's no way it was ever worth the original price, and probably isn't even worth the discounted price.
So maybe I can adopt the new relaxed truth approach to my computing guidance in future. Tell software designers that they can get their code to run ten times faster by using the MVC pattern in their web applications, or that dependency injection will increase the speed of their UI by 200%. If anyone complains I can tell them that I did the comparisons on "standard hardware". Firstly on a laptop with one MB of memory, and then compared the result to the same code running on a web farm of two hundred servers.
But I suppose the core issue is: does anyone actually believe anything they read, hear, or see in adverts these days? Perhaps that's why adverts are becoming more surreal, and even meaningless. For example, I couldn't help noticing an advert from a company that makes plastic water filter jugs. They're trying to persuade people to throw away their boring clear plastic one and replace it with one in an exciting new color (red, green, or blue). The tag line in the advert explains that, because our bodies are made more of water than anything else, then the more enjoyable the water we drink, the better. I'm struggling to understand how the color of a plastic jug has an impact on the mental state of the drinker, but no doubt they've done a study based on the same kind of strict criteria as I did with MVC and dependency injection.
Though I do remember seeing a cartoon some while back that showed a hardware store with a big sign saying "50% Off Ladders", with the small print "12ft now only 6ft, 10ft now only 5ft, 8ft now only 4ft"...
I dont think it is the advertisers fault, with pause and fastforward Digital TV, let's be honest, we dont watch the adverts. The poor poor advertising execs have probably realised that no-one is watching their hard pressed design efforts, so they are saying what they like and now and then they get picked up on it.
There are loads of classic examples from shampoo to car insurance, and do we really care as its washes over us? Probably not
But I don't advise sitting and watching adverts ;-)