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Buyers beware of tricks in ad language

Hey, my new blouse isn't made of silk,'' you discover too late. ''It's polyester!'' Then you reread the ad more carefully: ''New misses' blouse shipment - and oh, so sensationally silky. Imagine slipping on these smart-looking shirts for an unbeatable price!''

Hugh B. Exnicios, national director of Truth in Advertising, says, ''Some advertising writers have refined the language in their ads so well as to make buying irresistible.'' Buyers beware, then, of advertising tricks of language. It pays to learn to spot true bargains and save real money on legitimate advertisements.

About these ads

''You need to interpret ads according to advertising meaning,'' says Robert W. Beghtol of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York.

In the above ad, the key words are ''silky'' and ''slipping.'' These words give the idea you're paying hardly anything for an expensive silk blouse. The language in the ad wants to get the buyer to think ''silk'' and not check out the real material in the blouse.

Or take another ad promising ''Super value! Denim-look knit jumpers!'' Again the key word is ''look.'' The ad doesn't say ''denim knit jumpers.'' So you may jump to a conclusion and dash out to buy a ''denim jumper,'' only to discover later that the material is not denim at all and you have misread the ad!

The same holds true for other words and phrases. Take, for example, ''feel'' or ''touch,'' as in: ''All-weather boots have the feel of leather. Crafted for a leather touch - save!'' You could very easily misread this ad to think you're getting leather winter boots, but the boots - more than likely - are made of vinyl. Also, be on the lookout especially for the word ''help.'' This word only means ''aids'' or ''assists.'' Simply ask yourself ''How does this product act and work?'' If the ad doesn't answer that question, the product may not be any good.

In addition, look out for loaded terms! Mr. Exnicios advises that these descriptive words always give an ad an overwhelming ''pitch.'' Such adjectives as ''beautiful, exciting, fascinating, sensational, youthful,'' to name a few, add qualified meaning to products. You'd never see an ad saying only ''Come to Las Vegas!'' Rather, the ad would shout: ''The in place to go for fun, frivolity , and fascination is, always-on-the-go, Las Vegas!'' Of course, no one would use full, dry, and flat statements to describe a place like Las Vegas. A good rule of thumb, then, is to figure that, in general, the more loaded terms in an advertisement, the less facts there are to support the claim.

Mr. Exnicios advises shoppers ''to interpret advertisements according to advertising meaning, probably the only way to decipher true bargains.''

Mr. Beghtol of New York's Better Business Bureau says: ''Consumers are confused, and some advertisers are guilty of confusing them through the misleading use of words to describe types of sales. Not all advertisers are evil , but repeated advertising claims are useless as guidelines for concerned consumers as well as reputable advertisers.''

About these ads

Indeed, Madison Avenue challenges consumers in a game of words that goes as far back into civilization as people had something to promote for sale. Mr. Exnicios and Mr. Beghtol further caution shoppers that advertising writers use words couched in a language all their own to force consumers to interpret and decipher the meaning for their own benefit. The advertising bombardment is so heavy that last year the Federal Trade Commission reported the advertising industry spent over $28 billion to promote and move products.

Is it possible, then, to spot true bargains and save real money on legitimate advertisements? ''Yes,'' Mr. Beghtol answers, ''if you interpret advertisements according to advertising meaning. Words such as sale, special, regular, irregular, blemished, seconds, value, post-holiday sale, closeout, warehouse sale, factory outlet, clearance, emergency sale have special advertising meanings.''

Watch for these key words and phrases. There is no particular magic in them, but they can help you shop more intelligently.

* Sale: ''Save on tennis shoes from a leading maker! Sale! Sale! $14.95! Made to sell for $22.50! Such a blurb tells absolutely nothing, and the word ''sale'' only shows the store has something for sale. The fine print below the screaming headline may indicate whether this is a bargain or not.

Suppose the fine print says: ''Outdoor, hunting, or dress boot - all vulcanized rubber - treaded non-skid - lined - 4 buckle, zipper, or heavy-duty work styles, each with original label. Because of special sale price, we can't reveal the manufacturer's name.''

Is the advertiser offering a good boot because the manufacturer's name is withheld? The ad is probably valid, and the price probably does reflect a saving. It indicates that the manufacturing company has overstocked and has sold at a loss to the store, but withholds its name to avoid competing with itself.

However, if the fine print reads, ''Large selection - imported boots, each with original label,'' beware. Chances are this boot isn't worth any more than the price stated. You have no idea of the material used in the boots, nor any idea of the manufacturer's reputation. The word ''imported'' attached to these items tells nothing.

* Regular: ''Girls' hats - $2, regular $8.95.'' This ad uses the word ''regular,'' indicating that these hats usually sell for the $8.95 price, but are now marked down to $2 for a $6.95 saving.

* Value: ''Girls' hats - $2, $8.95 value.'' The word ''value'' here indicates this store doesn't regularly sell this item. Most likely the hats were bought especially for this sale, and the store determines the hats' ''value.'' You may save nothing by buying these hats.

Consider a camera ad offering a saving of over 50 percent: ''Our price - $39. 95; value - $82.50.'' ''Value'' again could mean the price the advertiser's competitors throughout the same trade area are offering. Simply check the competition before buying to see if all the stores in the area are selling the identical item for $39.95.

* Special-purchase value: ''Special purchase! Shirts $7 value, now only $3.50 .'' You will save $3.50 here. The words ''special purchase'' indicate that while the store purchased the shirts just for this sale, the manufacturer sets the ''value,'' not the store. Because of a manufacturer overstock, or the fact that the goods are ''irregulars,'' you may get a bargain.

* Irregulars: Check out these items. To violate government standards, products need be only one-thousandth of an inch off the standard to be classified as irregular. Underclothes, slips, sweaters, or jackets are often good bargains when sold as irregulars. The weave, material, and quality are usually the same or quite close.

* Post-holiday sale: ''All items valued at . . .'' If you see this phrase, ask yourself ''What stores are the items 'valued at'?'' The answer might be that all have a post-holiday sale and offer the same saving.

* Closeout: This indicates the manufacturer has permanently discontinued production of an item and a retailer has purchased any remaining supplies at a price reduction and passed a savings on to the consumer.

* Warehouse sale: Merchandise offered at a reduced price only in the advertiser's warehouse. Usually these items are not available in the retail store.

* Factory outlet: The seller and manufacturer are the same.

* Clearance: This indicates the merchandise wasn't or couldn't be sold at a previous price; now the price has been lowered to ''clear out'' the items. Any ad stating that ''new'' merchandise will be received for a ''clearance'' is misleading, because the advertiser has not offered this new item before the ''clearance'' ad.

* Emergency sale: Because something happened at the store - fire, tornado, remodeling, or lost lease - the store says it is offering reduced prices. The ad should tell the reasons for the sale.

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