Friday, January 18, 2013

Colbert covers the VitaminWater lawsuit

In food advertising and labeling law, there is a concept called "puffery." It means advertising or labeling claims so outlandish that reasonable adults will recognize their falsehood.

You might think that health advocacy groups would use the word "puffery" as an insult when describing food company advertising. Not so.

Instead, it is the food companies who use the word "puffery" in legal briefs defending their own advertising. As in: "Sure, our advertising claim was false, but so what? Our claim was mere 'puffery.' We have no legal obligation to stand by its truth." I thought of this arcane field of puffery-related law while watching Colbert's coverage of the Coca-Cola VitaminWater lawsuit this week.

2 comments:

Lucas said...

Wikipedia defines puffery thusly: "Puffery as a legal term refers to promotional statements and claims that express subjective rather than objective views, which no "reasonable person" would take literally.[1] Puffery serves to "puff up" an exaggerated image of what is being described and is especially featured in testimonials."

So they're not saying that their claims are factually incorrect, just that they're not even factual claims. Pretty weak. I could see puffery for a health claim like "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", but they seem to have made specific health claims.

Parke Wilde said...

Yes, exactly. The companies say their claims are not factual claims, as if that meant the claims were not fibs. But, then, we all can see that the companies really do intend the claims to be persuasive, in the sense of convincing large numbers of consumers to buy more of the product. I do not know how "puffery" should be regulated, but I do know what any sensible consumer should recognize: in their puffery, the advertisers lie.