–Dan Kelly, Attorney
I have generally enjoyed Geico’s commercials over the years, having gone so far at one point as to actually become an auto-insurance customer (but not currently). Geico’s commercials can be viewed on its website here, and the vast majority of them end with the same tagline–one that I have heard frequently enough that it is pretty well etched into my brain: “Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more.”
With a tip of the cap to Mark Shea, the sheer emptiness of this tagline has never occurred to me before. It has always registered in my mind as a promise of sorts that Geico’s rates are on average fifteen percent cheaper than those of other insurers. Obviously, when you look at it, it is no such thing. It is a highly specific non-commitment. The specifics of “fifteen minutes, fifteen percent” have always lodged in my brain, but not the lack of commitment that I “could” save. Well, I could not save, too. Very clever.
The more widespread approach to avoiding false advertising liability seems to be to avoid specifics. Here in the upper midwest, the classic example is the home improvement store Menards. Menards’ tagline is “save big money,” which it relentlessly repeats in its jingle (example here). Steve has commented before both on “Save Big” promises and the Menards jingle here. Interestingly, the jingle does commit, “you’ll save big money when you shop Menards,” but “big money” is a relative, non-specific thing. Another example is Wal-Mart’s “always low prices.” Also a non-specific, unmeasurable commitment.
The Geico approach of specific non-commitment has its limits. What if Geico said, “fifteen minutes could save you fifty percent or more”? The magnitude of a fifty percent savings highlights the issue: if it could be proved that no customer has ever saved that much, then the claim is probably misleading, if not false. (Or is it? Just because no customer has ever saved that much does not mean that no customer ever could. Nevermind the difficulties in trying to prove the matter, which would almost certainly have to be a detailed statistical analysis.) My guess is that many Geico customers have saved “fifteen percent or more,” so the claim that you could save that too is probably neither false nor misleading. So go ahead, you could save.