8 Examples of Common Logical Fallacies in Advertising

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If the truth easily influenced us, advertising would be replaced by the news. But the advertorials adopted by magazines in recent times show that the opposite is true. It is advertising that sells the news. And it is powerful because it uses cognitive biases to hack our decision-making.

In this article, you will discover what each of these means and find specific examples for every logical fallacy covered. Towards the end, we will cover how to select which ones you can use for your brand and how to protect your consumers' interests while crafting persuasive ad campaigns.

But first, let's unpack common fallacies from the advertising world.

1. The Bandwagon Effect

Humans are social beings which means they look at each other to develop a value system. Where commodities lie in a specific consumer's mind depends on how much others love it. Some people like obscure products that no one in the "mainstream" buys. Even such people base their value assessment on others' likes and dislikes.

The bandwagon effect is used most often by popular investment platforms and banks, and Apple.

They like to showcase how many people use their products and services not just because they want to appear desirable. They want to showcase wide adoption to earn trust. After all, humans naturally run towards pleasure (and away from pain).

2. Appeal to Authority

Another commonly used tactic in advertising is the appeal to authority. Consumers are more likely to trust experts and obey authority. A business can sell more products by using doctors' claims regarding the health benefits of a product.

This concept can be used to educate and inform people, as was the case with pandemic policy advertisements backed by the World Health Organization. But the same concept can be weaponized against consumers' own financial interests.

For example, a portfolio-copying business can advertise that you can copy “Mark Cuban's stock picks”. This appeal to authority might get you interested and might even persuade you to buy. But you do not have the same kind of disposable cash as Mark Cuban.

If you think about it rationally, you should not be making the same moves as a billionaire. However, an appeal to authority is meant to override critical thinking.

3. Appeal to Pity

Appeal to pity advertising is also referred to as negative advertising. It used to be prevalent in charity organizations' ads.

However, brand managers have pivoted towards neutral and positive ads because they feel like the donations that pity helps generate aren't worth the negativity associated with the brand. It is now being used in direct email campaigns by scammers (AKA, the “Nigerian Prince,” which is why it is worth talking about).

4. False Dichotomy

The false dilemma or false dichotomy is a logical fallacy where the advertiser frames two options as mutually exclusive or the choice itself as mandatory. The most common use of this is in product comparison ads where the advertiser wants to prove his product as the better value option.

A false dilemma is also constructed in political ads. The issue that a political campaign might support is presented with nuance while the other side's argument is taken to its extreme. A pro-choice ad might ask you to choose between rape victims being able to abort their fetuses and the state giving capital punishment to doctors who assist in abortions. Lastly, a pro-life ad might ask you to choose between having government oversight over abortion procedures and doctors aborting 8-month fetuses to harvest their stem cells.

The positioning doesn't have to be accurate, and neither of the options needs to be honest. In fact, the more dishonest this type of advertising is, the better it works.

5. Hasty Generalization

Advertisements that leverage hasty generalizations often use a limited data set to force a conclusion that serves the advertiser.

For instance, a green tea advertiser might latch onto the tea's effect on metabolism without addressing the impact so minute that it barely registers when the consumer is also taking in sugar. Hasty generalizations are most commonly used in fitness supplement advertisements.

6. False Equivalence

Often, marketers like to compare prices in advertisements. This comparison is made to show that their product costs less but ignores factors contributing to the other product's higher price.

False equivalence is the advertising tool of choice for new brands that want to compete on a price advantage with well-established brands. A new sneaker business might compare its price and material with Nike. But the equivalence would be false because the two brands do not have the same value.

7. Correlation‒Causation Fallacy

Correlation/causation advertising is typical in fashion and luxury brands. A human mind is a machine that notices patterns. And even if there is no pattern, it draws pattern-like conclusions, which is why our ancestors saw animals in star constellations.

So, how do advertisers exploit this pattern-building fallacy?

Since we assume correlation as a sign of causation, advertisers show attractive and affluent people using their products. This can make one see the product favorably in the mildest case and as an actual contributor to success in extreme cases. Beauty cream advertisers can take this too far, as can self-help course marketers.

8. Appeal to Celebrity

Major brands use celebrities in their advertisements because people assume stars know better. “Appeal to celebrity” has become a significant advertising tool with the inflation of celebrity culture.

Recently, it has become prominent in the political sphere as well. Celebrities themselves are built upon multiple cognitive biases like the crowd effect, likability bias, and confirmation bias. Using them in ads can, therefore, have a compounded effect.

How to Pick Logical Fallacies when Advertising?

All ads leverage a range of logical fallacies (to an extent). Whether you intentionally program them in your ad campaigns or not, you will use cognitive biases to influence consumer decisions. You can protect your customers' interests by getting intentional about the fallacies you pick.

Here are the best practices for using logical fallacies in advertising:

  • Leverage emotion to overcome emotion. Sometimes, consumers don't buy what's good for them because of insecurity, irrational doubts, and fear. Using imagery and association to help them overcome emotional barriers can be fruitful for your business and customer relations.
  • Avoid buyer's remorse. Brands that plan to last more than five minutes try not to hard sell their customers into positions where they have buyer's remorse. No matter how obvious a choice might seem, don't use a logical fallacy to force it if you know the customer will regret it later.
  • Don't use logical fallacies as a crutch. It is easier to sell products when you use cognitive biases to generate sales. But don't let that relieve you of the responsibility of improving your products and services. You should always make your product better than your advertising so that your customers feel like they should contribute to its marketing. Never let the real thing be a letdown.
  • Use ads to embed products in stories. You can use cognitive biases in advertising and packaging if the campaigns aim to improve the customer experience. Logical fallacies like association bias, desire for exclusivity, etc., can be used to enhance the customer experience. Advertisements that show attractive people wearing specific clothes can make people feel beautiful when they wear the same clothes.

Final Thoughts

Logical fallacies play a part in our ad-driven decision-making.

It might sound manipulative, but shying away from intentional programming of logical fallacies can lead to excessive unintentional use of the above decision-making hacks. And that's why every advertiser needs to know about various logical fallacies used in advertising and marketing. (Related: 9 TikTok Advertising Best Practices That Will Skyrocket Your ROAS (With Examples))

About the Author

I have been in the 'online business' space since 2009 when I started an eCommerce business selling motorcycle parts (sold in 2012). Since then I have owned and operated several successful online business (and had a fair share of failures), along with owning offline home services businesses. Currently my focus is online businesses that are profitable with paid traffic. As a 'self employed individual' I do not use Linkedin, but you can connect with my on my personal instagram and youtube which largely revolve around my mountain biking passion!