The Federal Trade Commission released the results of a study regarding consumer understanding of “up to” marketing claims. The study was conducted as part of the investigations of five companies that, in February, settled FTC charges that they made unsupported claims about their windows’ energy efficiency and how much consumers would save on their heating and cooling bills. The study investigated the beliefs of a sample of consumers who read Bristol Windows’ claim that their products were “PROVEN TO SAVE UP TO 47% ON YOUR HEATING AND COOLING BILLS.” The sample consumers saw one of the following three versions of the claim: (1) the claim as quoted above; (2) the claim as shown above, with the words “up to” removed; or (3) the claim as shown above, but with a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad stating, “The average Bristol Windows owner saves about 25% on heating and cooling bills.” Between 36-48% of sample consumers shown the “up to” language thought the ad stated or implied savings of 47%, depending on the formulation of the survey question. Statistically indistinguishable results were found for the groups shown the ad without the “up to” language and those shown the disclosure. Further, all sample consumers had nearly the same opinion of the likelihood of reaching the maximum savings: over 40% of all samples believed that half or more consumers could expect to save 47% on their heating and cooling bills. According to the FTC, this study demonstrates that “many consumers are likely to believe that they will achieve the maximum ‘up to’ results.”
TIP: The FTC interprets claims including the term “up to” to mean that consumers are likely to achieve the maximum results promised under normal circumstances. Advertisers using such claims must be able to substantiate those results.