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Logical Fallacies: Don’t Fall For These Advertising Tricks

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Logical Fallacies: Don’t Fall For These Advertising Tricks


You ever watch an ad and say, “I don’t know about that?” If you’re like me, the second I suspect someone is trying to sell me something, my defenses go up and I’m friggin outta there. But just as with all creative endeavors, you can learn a lot from watching the bad stuff. It can be especially helpful with learning what not to do.

I think that whenever you get that icky feeling, it’s because the advertiser is employing a logical fallacy. Most people can sense such fallacies, even though they might not be able to put their finger on why something is bugging them. It’s an innate sense from our emotionally intelligent lizard ancestors. So, let’s go through some logical fallacies. Knowing more about them will make avoiding them easier in your own work.

What is a Logical Fallacy?

First, let’s define the term. Logical fallacies are deceptive arguments that use psychological persuasion to “strengthen” an argument, but fall apart with a little more examination. Basically they’re mistakes in reasoning that provides an argument or premise that doesn’t support their conclusion. They come in two varieties: Formal and Informal. Formal fallacies are arguments that have invalid structure while informal fallacies are arguments that have irrelevant or incorrect premises.

Understanding some basic fallacies can help you know what’s giving you those icky feelings. This will, in-turn, help you know which ads are sharing helpful information with you and which are manipulating you to buy, buy, buy!

Fallacy Examples

The False Dilemma Fallacy

We see this one all the time. Sometimes an advertiser will say “it’s either this or that.” This limits the number of choices available to a customer and tells them to choose from the limited options. So, the customer says, “Well, it’s not my favorite, but at least it’s not that other, bad option.” So, for example, let’s say a car company suggests, “You’re either driving a Subaru, or you’re not cool.” This creates a false dilemma for the customer: either they buy a Subaru or suffer from not being cool. An impossible choice.

The Bandwagon Fallacy

Just because a bunch of people think something is true, does not make it so. For example, most people think the moon landing happened. WAKE UP SHEEPLE! But popularity isn’t enough to validate something (at least that’s what I told myself in high school). We all know this one right, “Nine out of ten people think XXXX is the best gum.” But a bandwagon argument like this doesn’t consider whether those nine people are qualified to decide whether a certain gum is objectively better. Now, if they’re dentists, that’s a whole different story…

The Scare Tactic Fallacy

We recently blogged about emotional copywriting. This next fallacy occurs when you use peoples’ emotions as a weapon against them. A scare tactic is an emotional appeal that uses fear to convince customers to purchase a product or service. People will create a scenario in which a threat endangers something that a customer values, or cares for greatly. It then presents its own product or service as the solution to eliminate the threat. The fallacy part comes in because the advertiser is assuming a threat exists, or sometimes even creating a threat when there is none. We’ve all seen home security commercials, right? However, we’ve all seen Home Alone and know that if a burglar ever came to the house, our feisty kids would horrifically injure any intruder with paint cans and toy cars.

The Correlation-Causation Fallacy

We’re probably familiar with this one in some way. If two things appear to be correlated, that does not mean that one of those things caused the other. People often employ this fallacy to prove a point that they want to be true, “Well, people started buying pumpkins right around my birthday (October 1st), so I guess my birthday causes pumpkin fever!”

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

Ad hominem arguments create doubt about their competitor’s credibility. In fact, the phrase means “against the person” in Latin. So, advertisers use these arguments to discredit their opponent. For example:

“Hi, I’m a Mac…”

“And I’m a PC.”

“I like to have fun and party with my friends. Also, I donate to charity.”

“Meanwhile, I, a PC, routinely go out of my way to step on flowers. And I like pineapple on my pizza.”

I don’t know about you, but that PC guy sounds like a monster.

The Anecdotal Evidence Fallacy

Everyone who has paid attention to politics in the last several years is well aware of this. This involves employing arguments that are based solely on personal experience. These are fallacious because they ignore that you’re relying on only one example that could very well be incorrect. “A friend of mine cut his hair and now he’s married. Better cut your hair!”

The Halo Effect Fallacy

No, the Halo Effect is not the crazed explosion of LAN parties in kids basements in the early 2000s. Though that was really cool. The Halo Effect we’re talking about is when a company uses its positive reputation in one category to argue for its effectiveness in another. People will use this fallacy to convince you to buy other products/services after the success of something unrelated. For example, just because Chicken McNuggets are bangin’, doesn’t mean that I want a McRib. Okay, that’s a bad example. Of course I want a McRib. But just because you like Amazon Prime’s fast shipping, doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to have an Alexa, yet they’ll leverage their brand recognition to sell you exactly that.

The Sharpshooter Fallacy

A sharpshooter in the old west decides to fire a shot at the side of a barn. He then approaches his bullet hole and paints a bullseye around where he happened to hit. He tells everyone he got a bullseye. Advertisers will often handpick data points that support the argument they want to make. They aren’t looking at a complete picture and coming to a logical conclusion, they’re finding patterns that support their goals.

Logical Fallacies

Thanks For Coming to the Fallacy Palace

Hopefully you’re able to spot when advertisers are using some of these fallacies. And also, hopefully you can start to avoid them. Most of these don’t only relate to marketing either. Feel free to refer to this blog during your next argument with your spouse.

And if you need a couch to crash on after that, always feel free to contact KARMA jack Digital Marketing. We have a fold-out.

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