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Lying when advertising

Question:

Hi, I’m strongly considering a career in copywriting (which involves writing to promote a product or service, generally in the attempt to have people purchase something or sign up for something etc. It can be business to business, or business to customer, such as sales letters). There are times when such materials are clearly unethical, such as when they overpromise on how effective the product is or the like. I understand that must be avoided. My shaila is, what about slightly exaggerating the positive aspects? I don’t have a specific example of what I’m referring to, but it seems most marketing materials people read are obviously pushing the product, and is there a svara that people understand this is how ads are written and they realize there may be some “hype” in the ad?
2)Also, many ads are written in the first person, telling a personal story, e.g. how they had a certain problem and his product helped them. Is it permitted to make up such a story? Again, is there a svara that people realize it’s an ad and are not basing their decision on the actual story.
3) Is it a problem to say an offer is limited in time (i.e. only 2 days left) or quantity, to encourage sales, if that is not actually true?
In general, does this field sound like it is fitting for a ben Torah who is concerned with not being nichshal in any issues of dishonesty?
Thank you

Answer:

  1. To slightly exaggerate is permitted because those reading the advertisement will automatically lower what you are saying. Therefore the message that the people are getting is correct.
  2. Making up a lie is not permitted. If the advertisers thoughts that people were not basing part of their decision on the false story, they wouldn’t put it in. The fact is that the lies are convincing them… erroneously.
  3. This is more of a gray area. If it is understood that this is the advertising goes, that they say limited amount, and people understand that it isn’t true then it would be permitted, as this is the way of talking. However, if people don’t understand it that way, and when they say a sale is for a limited amount of time, often they mean it, then it would be fooling them.

What you are writing is true, the advertising business, for an honest person is fraught with danger, because unfortunately a lot of advertising nowadays involves lying and fooling people. False advertising can include the issurim of sheker (lying), geneivas daas (fooling), lifnei iver, because it is giving them bad advice especially is it is not true. Additionally, you might be under pressure from a dishonest customer to do these things. I am not saying not to go into this business, rather that you should know the pitfalls.

Best wishes

Sources:

ע’ ס’ תתן אמת ליעקב עמ’ תע”ח, שמביא מקונטרס של הרה”ג ר’ יואל שורץ שליט”א “ראיתי בשם א”ר או”ח סימן קנ”ו המוכר אל ישבח ביותר וכן הקונה אל יגנה ביותר ומשמע שקצת מותר והכלל בזה צ”ע ועכ”פ להטעות במה שאין הדרך בין בני אדם אסור בודאי” ע”כ ובס’ הנ”ל הוא מוסיף “ומצאתי בפירוש במגדול עוז בית מדות עליית דרך ארץ פרק ד’ שג”כ סובר דקצת מותר ח”ל דרך ארץ הסוחר בסחורה כשימכור סחורתו לא ישבח אותה וכשיקנה לא יפליג בגנותה הא מעט שרי דכתיב רע רע יאמר הקונה ויהי’ משאו ומתנו באמונה וישמור דבריו לקיים אותן ואם אמר אמכור לך במנה ונזדמן לו אחר שיתן מאתים לא ישנה דבריו וה”ה אם אמר לחבירו אקנה ממך במאתים ונזדמן אחר שיתן לו במנה אבל כסבור שכך הוא השער וטעה אצ”ל אם הטעהו המוכר אין בזה אפי’ מדת חסידות ע”כ ומכאן תוכחה מגולה לסוחרים שעושים פרסומת לא להגזים הרבה בטיב סחורתם”.

 

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