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I once encountered a car dealer who took advertising puffery to new levels. They publicized themselves as being number one in every conceivable category. Their general advertising theme was, “We’re number one.” Their new car slogan was, “We’re number one in new cars.” Their used car slogan was, “We’re number one in used cars.” Their service department’s slogan was, “We’re number one in service.” And of course, their logo featured their name inside a number one.

That approach must have simplified their advertising strategy meetings: “Let’s just tell everybody we’re number one in everything.”

I’m no legal expert, but I suspect that they could not have been prevented from using that exaggeration, because saying “we’re number one” is like saying “we’re the best.” It’s just too common to be taken as a serious deception.

The more important issue is in the fact that the ads had no credibility. There was no proof to back up the claims. Consumers were never presented with any reasons to believe what the dealership was saying.

I thought of that old ad campaign recently, when I saw a series of ads for another car dealership. Like the old dealership, they were marketing themselves as a preferred place to buy a car. But unlike those old ads, these claims were on solid ground, because they were supported by evidence. The ads showed long-time customers holding up fingers to represent the number of cars they had purchased from the dealership. It was an attention grabber – a simple and effective way to sell the dealership’s longevity and reputation.

Unsubstantiated claims are lazy. It takes practically no effort to write a headline like, “We’re number one” or “Best deals in town.” On the other hand, it takes some creativity to come up with the right kind of supportive evidence.

The work is worth the effort. While consumers ignore exaggerations and unsupported claims, they respond to relevant promises and offers that are backed up by evidence.

When you’re writing an ad or making a sales presentation, it might help to imagine someone sitting on the other side of the desk with arms crossed, saying, “Oh yeah? Prove it.”

There are many forms of proof – statistics, photographs, and testimonials, for example. Here’s how evidence can help:

“Our new widget is the best on the market” has no muscle. It’s better to say, “According to XYZ research, our widget has a 95 percent durability rating.

“Our paper is better than any other advertising option” is an empty statement. It’s better to write, “Let me tell you about the great results that Retailer X gained from advertising in our paper. Their sales increased by 27 percent during the first month.”

“Our customers love us” is weak. It’s more effective to say, “Here’s what our customers say about us.”

Just because we believe something doesn’t make it believable to others. There is power in proof. Make that imaginary skeptic on the other side of the desk smile and you’re on the right track.