The best column you'll ever read!

We're hip to the aversion-attraction feeling that many of you clearly have toward advertising.

A story we ran last fall on the growth of "ambient" (all-over) ads - ones etched in the sand at public beaches, for example - moved a fair number of you to write.

On the whole, you found marketers' broadening assault deplorable. But a few of you conceded that artful ads, broadcast or in print, sometimes made you smile, think - even buy.

Some of the most persuasive campaigns these days are fairly subtle. Sophisticated. But once in a while, sloganeers fall back on "we're-the-best" chest-beating.

Much of it is just "puffery." Hyperbole, after all, is advertising's stock in trade. But when it's deceptive, lawyers step in like stern parents settling a shouting match.

Once a company starts slinging superlatives about itself, it begins making statements about its competitors. Few take it lying down.

And consumers seldom get to see the fights behind the curtain.

Back in 1995, Kraft aired ads calling its Maxwell House product "America's best-loved coffee." Procter & Gamble, maker of Folgers, argued that Kraft's wording made an objective-sounding claim of market supremacy - "best loved" translating to "best selling."

P&G found statistics showing Maxwell House did not, in fact, lead in actual sales. And said a lot of the people it polled thought that's what the ad claimed.

The finding? Allowable puffery, according to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. That case didn't go up to the Federal Trade Commission. Others do.

For an inside look at how glib adspeakers can spiral into speaking legalese, see our lead story.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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