Implication and Innuendo

Statement A logically implies statement B if and only if the truth of A guarantees the truth of B. (Note the similarity between this and the definition of a logically valid argument).

Innuendo occurs when statement A suggests the truth of statement B, without logically implying it. This technique is used effectively by advertisers, in order to suggest certain claims about a product which the maker of the product cannot adequately support. The idea is to make the consumer believe certain these things about the product, while avoiding charges of false advertising.


Claim: Three out of four dentists recommend that their patients chew sugarless gum.

Assuming that dentists have their patients’ best interests at heart, the truth of this claim would suggest that chewing sugarless gum is good for your teeth.

How to insinuate the claim:

Three out of four dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.

This line was actually used in an ad campaign for a brand of sugarless gum. Notice that the weaselers add qualifications to the sentence which weaken it so that it insinuates the claim at issue without logically implying it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with words that add qualifications to a statement – but it is important to be aware of how such words can be used to mislead.

The #1 Comedy in America!”

Note the unstated qualification “currently in theatres”

“Digital Ready”

Meaningless in most cases.

“High speed USB 2.1”

Generally, when a product advertisement calls attention to a certain feature, the viewer tends to assume that the feature is not standard in that kind of product.

“Special Limited Edition”

(In my case the software was “limited” in the sense that it wasn't fully functional!)



52. Dissemination of false advertisements

It shall be unlawful for any person, partnership, or corporation to disseminate, or cause to be disseminated, any false advertisement -

(2) By any means, for the purpose of inducing, or which is likely to induce, directly or indirectly, the purchase in or having an effect upon commerce, of food, drugs, devices, services, or cosmetics. (b) Unfair or deceptive act or practice The dissemination or the causing to be disseminated of any false advertisement within the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice in or affecting commerce within the meaning of section 45 of this title.

§ 53. False advertisements; injunctions and restraining orders

Whenever the Commission has reason to believe -

the Commission by any of its attorneys designated by it for such purpose may bring suit in a district court of the United States or in the United States court of any Territory, to enjoin the dissemination or the causing of the dissemination of such advertisement. Upon proper showing a temporary injunction or restraining order shall be granted without bond. Any suit may be brought where such person, partnership, or corporation resides or transacts business, or wherever venue is proper under section 1391 of title 28. In addition, the court may, if the court determines that the interests of justice require that any other person, partnership, or corporation should be a party in such suit, cause such other person, partnership, or corporation to be added as a party without regard to whether venue is otherwise proper in the district in which the suit is brought. In any suit under this section, process may be served on any person, partnership, or corporation wherever it may be found.

For the purposes of sections 52 to 54 of this title -

Note that a “false advertisement”, so defined, may not actually be false. It may simply be “misleading” (perhaps because it uses innuendo), or may omit important information.

Compare the FTC's definition of false advertising with this definition of lying:

L is a lie told by S if and only if S asserts L with the intent to deceive, knowing that L is not true.

Lying requires several conditions that may not be present in the case of “false advertising.”

Why require truth in advertising? The basic economic justification is this:

The economy benefits when consumers make decisions based on good information, because this contributes to a fair competition in which the best products and services “win” (as opposed to the products and services with the most manipulative ad compaigns).

The requirement of truth in advertising is necessary in order for consumers to have good information.

Therefore, truth in advertising benefits the economy.

An ethical argument (i.e. One with a a conclusion about ethics) might look like this:

If a law benefits the economy, then, other things being equal, it benefits society.

The morally right laws are those that benefit society more than the alternatives. The law requiring truth in advertising benefits society more than the alternatives.

The law requiring truth in advertising is morally right.

(Note that the third premise has been supported by the first argument.)