You might not be thinking about the Federal Trade Commission or your state's laws about false advertising when trying to sell your old car, but maybe you should learn a little about puffery. Proclaiming your 10-year-old pride and joy to be the best car you've ever had could help you to sell your car. However, lying to the buyer about the age of the transmission could end with you in a courtroom listening to a judge order you to refund the buyer's money.
Puffery is the use of exaggeration or hyperbole in statements made to promote or sell a product or service. The inability to verify or measure the accuracy of the statements is what distinguishes puffery from false advertising. Here are three examples of advertising claims that help to illustrate differences between false advertising and puffery.
When "better" does not necessarily mean "better"
An advertising slogan in which a national chain of stores selling pizza proclaimed, "Better ingredients, better pizza," was challenged on as an example of false advertising. The federal courts sided with company by finding that the statement did not represent a statement of fact capable of being verified and relied upon by consumers of the product. According to the courts, the statement was an example of puffery.
Lying about your transmission was simply lying
There is really no way to sugarcoat a lie or. The statement about your 10-year-old clunker being the best car you have ever owned is nothing more than puffery. It is a purely subjective statement representing your opinion, but lying about the transmission is an objective statement that is capable of verification. By relying on your false statement to make the decision to purchase the car, you could be sued for fraud because the statement was designed to purposely deceive the buyer by intentionally misrepresenting the condition of the vehicle.
Exaggerated claims: The best coffee in town
An advertising campaign in which a coffee shop claims that it serves the "best coffee in town" is doing nothing more than engaging in puffery to drum up business. Such a broad statement with generalized claims is not created and used to deceive the public into believing this coffee shop has what could truly be considered the best coffee in town. It is a subjective statement.
Changing the advertisement slightly could, however, change the statement from puffery to false advertising. If the coffee shop claimed that consumers picked its coffee as the best among all of the coffees served in the town, the shop owner might be engaging in false advertising. The reason is that referring to a comparison test means the statement is an objective statement about the coffee that can be proven with the results of the taste test. If there was no test, then it is a false statement.
Telling the difference between puffery and false advertising can be difficult. Business owners must be careful about the statements they make about products or services to avoid costly litigation.