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Grade 3-5, 6-8

Believe it or Not?

Updated: July 8 2015,
Author: Patricia Bonner


Have you every heard someone say, “You can’t believe everything you see?” Or “You can’t believe everything you hear.” Either way, this is really good advice—especially when it comes to advertising.

In a competitive marketplace, sellers compete with other sellers for consumers. Sellers use advertising to let consumers know about the goods and services they want to sell. Advertising provides sellers with a way to tell consumers about prices, product features, quality and customer service. To increase their sales, sellers try to make themselves and what they are selling look and sound as good as possible.

To protect consumers and make sure competition among sellers is fair, the federal government prohibits advertisers from making false statements. When a factual claim is stated in an ad, the seller must be able to prove the claim. If the government finds that a claim is false, the seller can be forced to stop running the ad and to pay a fine.

On the other hand, it is usually okay for advertisers to just talk about the positives and ignore the negatives of what they are selling. Some ads use words and pictures to stretch the truth. A common trick is to use “puffery.” Puffing is exaggerating by claiming something is “the best” or “the greatest”

If this all sounds a bit confusing, it can be! It is up to you, the buyer, to separate the facts that advertisers must be able to prove from opinions and exaggerations. Let’s start by separating facts from opinions.

Task List

In this lesson you will investigate how advertisers use words and images to make goods and services look their best. You will be asked to separate factual claims in advertising from opinions. You will also prepare a set of tips that you would give to others so that they are not misled by advertising claims and images.


Activity 1: Fact or Opinion?

Sellers make a variety of claims in advertisements—some claims are factual and some are statements of opinion. Facts are statements that can be proven true or false. The following statements are factual.

  • The bike has three gears.
  • The bike is available in red or blue.
  • The price of the bike is $90

Opinions are statements based on a belief or value. For example:

  • The bike is better than bikes made by other companies.
  • The bike is easier to ride.
  • The bike is more fun to ride than other bikes.

Read the claims made in the following advertisements. Can you believe them?
View Interactive Activity


  • Which do you think are more useful to consumers—facts or opinions? Why?
  • All the facts and opinions focused on the good qualities of the good or service. What do you think is the reason for this?

Be prepared to discuss your answers after you finish this lesson.

Activity 2: Packages Are Advertising, Too!

toyDid you know that packages are a form of advertising? Packages are designed to catch your attention as you walk down store aisles. They are a seller’s last chance to convince you to buy a particular product rather than the one next to it.

Look at the packages in this shopping bag to learn more about how advertisers use words and images to make what they sell seem great. Can you believe what you see?


In the market place, sellers are competing with other sellers to get your attention and sell you their products. Sellers use advertisements to make themselves and what they sell look as good as possible. To do this, ads contain a mixture of facts, opinions and exaggerations. The federal government says that facts must be backed up with proof, but it is up to you to figure out the difference between factual claims and statements of opinion. Being able to distinguish facts from opinions will help you make wise consumer choices and avoid disappointments in the marketplace.

Assessment Activity

Think back to all that you learned in this lesson.

View Interactive Activity

  1. Write down three pieces of advice that you would give others so that they are not misled by advertising claims and images.

Extension Activity

  1. Locate an ad in a magazine and read each sentence. If the sentence states a fact put an F beside it. If the sentence states an opinion, put an O beside it.
  2. Think about the picture of that big juicy burger you saw on a billboard or in a television ad. Didn’t it look great? Click here to find out how food stylists made the burger look so good. The secrets of photographing chicken and ice cream for ads are revealed as well.
  3. Watch for advertisements on television that seem to promise more than you think they can deliver. If you find one, write a letter to the company telling why you think the ad is misleading.