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Spell Out Guarantees — or Spell Trouble

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Few advertising claims garner more attention than “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.” This widely-used statement can be found in all forms of advertising, ranging from simple flyers to national TV spots.

However, advertisers who opt to make this type of statement should be mindful of customer expectations.

Transparency prevents confusion among shoppers. Being proactive by openly disclosing all material conditions and limitations provides an important layer of protection for businesses and consumers alike. It’s an issue that lies at the heart of business self-regulation. Even the Roman politician Cicero once wrote, “All things should be laid bare so that the buyer may not be in any way ignorant of anything the seller knows.”

Fast forward a few thousand years to the Vigilance Committees — which later became Better Business Bureau (BBB) — which were founded on business self-regulation and truth in advertising by business leaders, including Samuel Dobbs, a Coca-Cola executive. Providing customers the information they need to make an educated buying decision can happen in various ways. The practice should complement the marketing channel, whether it’s direct marketing through point-of-purchase, print, television, radio, web ads, your company web site; or indirect through social media, blogging or public relations.

BBB’s Code of Advertising has specifics to help improve the way businesses market warranties and guarantees:

  • When using the term “warranty” or “guarantee” in product advertising, include a statement like “complete details of the warranty can be seen prior to purchase [in-store, viewed via the web site/hyperlink, or in the case of mail or telephone order orders, sent free upon written request.]”
  • Don’t make claims like “satisfaction guaranteed” or “money back guarantee,” unless the full purchase price of the advertised product or service is refunded at the customer’s request.
  • When a claim such as “satisfaction guaranteed” is made, any material limitations or conditions must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.
  • When advertising “lifetime” warranties or guarantees, the claim must disclose the meaning of the term “lifetime.” For example, a lifetime warranty for brake pads might say, “Brake pads guaranteed for the lifetime you own the vehicle.”
  • Avoid advertising a product or service as warranted or guaranteed unless you or the product manufacturer are prepared to promptly and fully perform your obligations under the claim.

For personal assistance or questions about your advertising claims, contact BBB at 410-400-4BBB.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. She can be reached at 410-347-3990 and abarnett@greatermd.bbb.org.