We are all familiar with those advertisers who tout their product to an extreme degree. Many companies that use consumer testimonials are guilty of such a practice. We all remember the ads for movies and plays where individuals say, for example: "That was the best movie I ever saw, I'm taking my child back to see it again and again."

But from a practical perspective, is this an effective approach? That is, by exaggerating the quality and characteristics of our product will we eventually get consumers to 1) purchase it and more importantly 2) to repurchase it? Interestingly, exaggerating product characteristics in a favorable manner may not be effective.


There is a idea in psychology, called "Assimilation-Contrast theory," which explains that consumers evaluate product characteristics consistent with what is read in an advertisement only up to a certain point of exaggeration. Once that point is reached, their evaluation of a product will dramatically move in the opposite direction. This effect is called a "contrast effect."

What does this mean in English? The idea is simply that if you exaggerate too much, then people will not believe the ad and will ultimately evaluate the product more poorly than if they had no information at all!


This question is not easily answered, since it really depends on the product and the situational characteristics of the advertisement. But here's what we know. You can use a technique that can delay the contrast effect. This technique let's an advertiser exaggerate to a greater degree without the threat of poor product evaluation.

But realize that while this might be attractive for advertisers, it can be extremely detrimental to the consumer since the consumer ends up evaluating the advertisement consistent with inflated expectations.


So what is this technique which delays the contrast effect? It is called two-sided advertising. Two-sided advertising is advertising in which the advertiser makes favorable statements about the company's product but also introduces product limitations on attributes that are relatively unimportant to the consumer.

For example, in advertisements for the original Volkswagen beetle, the company always mentioned that their car is economical in gas mileage but poked fun at itself by stating that the car is ugly. In fact, the car was affectionately known as "the bug." Admittedly, the style attribute was a negative, but it was clearly not the reason that individuals purchased the car. So what does this strategy accomplish?

By stating a negative, the company is perceived as being more credible than the average advertiser!

Think about what an average advertiser does. They typically only present a product in a positive light.

But by stating a negative you accomplish three objectives: 1) your advertisement stands out among the crowd; 2) your advertisement is perceived to be highly credible; and 3) you delay the onset of the contrast effect.

Interestingly, many advertising agencies advise their clients that two-sided advertising is not a viable approach to advertising. They simply believe that under no circumstances should a company admit a negative to the consuming public.


First, exaggerating your product characteristics too much can hurt you because consumers will evaluate your product less favorably than if they had never viewed an ad!

Second, consumers should be aware that by admitting a negative, the advertiser is naturally perceived as being more truthful. As a result, a firm can get away with exaggeration of potentially non-truthful product characteristics!

Hence, even in two-sided advertising, there are two sides to every story!

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is founder, CEO, and Positioning Practice Lead at MarketingProfs. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the former director of Mindful USC.