- I’m the greatest, yes sirree, that’s all you’ll ever hear from me! and Falsity without deception: As Possible As the Law Says, but Not As Probable
Chapter 1. I’m the Greatest, Yes Sirree, That’s All You’ll Ever Hear from Me!
Preston, Ivan. 1996. (1975.) I’m the greatest, yes sirree, that’s all you’ll ever hear from me! and Falsity without deception: As possible as the law says, but not as probable. In The Great American Blow-Up: Puffery in Advertising and Selling(Revised Edition). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 3–11. Reprinted with the permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.
The book you are about to read is a superior piece of work. It demonstrates the sheerest true excellence in its treatment of one of the outstandingly important topics of our time. You will find every moment informative and entertaining to a degree you have never before encountered in the world of fine literature. This much applauded volume has earned for its author a rightful place as one of the top writers on the contemporary scene.
The paragraph you have just read is the purest baloney, and it is precisely the topic of this book. It is puffery. It is the pretentious opinion of salesmen and advertisers, exaggerating their wares, magnifying value, quality, and attractiveness to the limits of plausibility and beyond. It is false, and I know it is false; I do not believe it. If you had believed it, and had bought this book because you relied upon the belief, you would have gotten less than you had bargained for in the marketplace. You would have been cheated.
And you would have been cheated legally. Puffery ties to you and it deceives you, but the law says it doesn’t. You can’t always be “sure if it’s Westinghouse,” but the law says such statements are permissible. State Farm isn’t “all you need to know about insurance,” but State Farm may claim so without fear of prosecution. Bayer may not “work wonders,” and Avis may not “try harder.” There’s no guarantee that “if it’s Borden’s it’s got to be good,” and the Chicago Tribune definitely is not the “world’s greatest newspaper.” Blatz may not be “Milwaukee’s finest beer,” Nestlé’s may not make “the very best chocolate,” and Ford may not give you “better ideas.”
Yet none of these sales representations are prohibited. Puffery is not against the law; it is a child of the law. Our government acknowledges that sales puffs are false, but rules incorrectly that they are not deceptive. Puffery affects people’s purchasing decisions by burdening them with untrue beliefs, but our regulators say it does no such thing except to the occasional out-of-step individual who acts unreasonably and therefore deserves no protection. The law holds that people who act reasonably will automatically distrust puffery, will neither believe it nor rely upon it, and therefore cannot be deceived by it.
Without a doubt the law just described is about as pure a piece of baloney as puffery itself is. Puffery deceives, and the regulations which have made it legal are thoroughly unjustified. There are many varieties of puffery, and they account for a huge proportion of the claims made by sellers and advertisers in the marketplace. The rules which say these false claims are nondeceptive and therefore legal are based on incorrect assumptions about the facts of human behavior and on incorrect applications of the legal precedents from which they supposedly derive. This book is about the circumstances which have brought such strange regulations into being and have contributed thereby to the unhappiness with which today’s consumers view the marketplace. It is the story of legalized lying.
We live in an age when standards in the marketplace are rising. The outright deceits of sellers were once acceptable behavior; today they are not. The consumerism trend has removed most of them. But the job is not yet complete, the movement has not yet succeeded. Puffery is the remaining area which has yet to be mopped up; it is the unwelcome residue of...