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Purpose - This paper investigates visual exaggerations of fragrance advertisements by comparing subjects’ expectations resulting from print ads to their subsequent product evaluations. It then considers whether the actual scents fall short, meet or exceed these expectations.

Design/methodology/approach - By means of a semiotic analysis we capture the corresponding literary attributes of the ads to develop adjective pairs describing the meaning of the ads. Interviews are conducted to assess the meaning that consumers draw from the fragrance ads and we supplement these findings by performing a blind olfactory product evaluation of the fragrances. Paired sample t-tests are used to compare subjects’ ad expectations to their subsequent product evaluation of the actual scent.

Findings - Our results show that the visual cues and imagery in the fragrance ads appear, under certain conditions, to result in product expectations that exceed actual product evaluations, suggesting the existence of visual puffery. We also found that the more abstract descriptors of the ad resulted in significantly higher expectations, while the more concrete descriptors resulted in significantly lower expectations than the actual product evaluation.

Research limitations/implications - A small sample size of homogenous consumers limits the generalizability of the results. No measures of attitude effectiveness were taken.

Practical implications - Visual puffery may be effective and help marketers, even in countries where verbal puffery is illegal, to use another means to reach consumers.

Originality/value - This paper investigates an under-researched area in advertising. A multi-method approach and primary data are used to assess subjects’ ad expectations of a fragrance and the actual product evaluation and demonstrates the existence of visual puffery.


This article was originally published in European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 46 Iss: 1/2. View the article online at:

Publication Title

European Journal of Marketing