Ads claiming ‘No. 1’: Companies Must Back Them with Objective Data

Hyperbolic ads making unfounded claims such as “No. 1 in popularity” are rampant. Advertising is an important factor in selecting products and services, so strengthening oversight is essential.

So-called No. 1 ads are essentially based on a method in which a company, product or service is compared to others under certain standards to show that it is superior. This should be based on fair, objective surveys or specific indicators such as sales figures, and the source should be clearly indicated.

However, there is an endless number of unscrupulous cases in which people are asked about their “satisfaction levels” — based solely on impressions — and those responses are used in ads.

The Japan Advertising Review Organization (JARO) has received more than 350 complaints and consultations over the four years from fiscal 2019, such as “They just went ahead and claim to be No. 1 in the industry” and “I can’t understand what they’re No. 1 in.”

This violates the spirit of the Law against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations, which stipulates that data should be cited correctly based on objective research. This advertising method must be criticized for deceiving consumers.

The Consumer Affairs Agency took administrative action in February against a telecommunications equipment rental company for travelers that advertised its products as the “No. 1 choice of overseas travelers.” The agency demanded that the company prevent this from happening again.

A company commissioned by the rental services operator conducted the survey on which the ad was based, asking respondents about their impressions of the website without confirming whether they had actually used the company’s services or those of other businesses.

A company that dispatches tutors was subject to disciplinary action by the agency last January. It had omitted seven other major tutoring companies from its survey, and reportedly advertised itself as “No. 1 in word-of-mouth popularity” based on the survey, whose respondents included people unrelated to the students receiving the service.

The cases that result in disciplinary action are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. This kind of advertising is prevalent largely because market research can now be easily conducted via the internet.

Market research companies often approach businesses, telling them among other things that “We can create No. 1s” or “We’ll refund your money if you don’t become No. 1.” There are also reportedly unscrupulous cases in which the survey questions are changed until a client business is ranked No. 1. The survey is then discontinued the moment that business reaches the top spot.

The agency is conducting a fact-finding survey on the No. 1 ads. Misleading ads must be dealt with strictly, including through administrative penalties.

An industry association of market research firms has established rules regarding the objectivity of No. 1 ads. These rules should be rigidly obeyed. Businesses should also be aware of the damage to their corporate value that can result from the careless use of unreliable survey results and carefully check them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2024)