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In the context of advertising, a demonstration serves to substantiate an ad claim through reasoning or a show of evidence. Depending on the nature of the product, the reasoning and evidence behind a claim may be conveyed in several ways: through illustration by examples or specimens, through testing or by detailing the functionality, qualities or benefits of an offering.

Typically, a demonstration focuses on the rewards provided by a brand's specific features, standards and applicability. The idea is to make the new or foreign familiar by showing off its properties and advantages.

Types and characteristics

Demonstrations are categorized as straightforward, product tests, torture tests, comparative, before-after and whimsical.

Straightforward demonstrations typically show how to use something, convey situational or lifestyle usage or tout the simple benefits derived from using the brand, firm, person or object. The product test demonstrates that a product meets a standard or set of standards established by experts or discerning users. The audience finds it believable because it involves state-of-the-art measurement equipment and experts who are more knowledgeable than they themselves are about the brand. The torture test shows how the product performs under adverse conditions.

The before-after test compares an undesirable situation before use of the product to a desired state after use. Whimsical demonstrations incorporate humor and enjoyment into the message, for example, by employing an unexpected person as demonstrator or conducting the demonstration under unusual circumstances. Comparative demonstrations explain the superiority of one brand over others on the basis of subjective or objective judgments.


Credible demonstrations produce immediate sales because they persuade the audience that one brand actually works, provides key benefits, performs more functions than its rivals or is safer or easier to use. Many advertisers have enjoyed immediate results from the use of demonstrations in advertising and other promotional programs.

Callaway Golf Co., for example, launched its Big Bertha driver in ads and promotions that showed a significant increase in the distance traveled by a golf ball after being driven by Big Bertha both in the laboratory and on the course. Many golfers bought the Big Bertha after seeing demonstrations in ads and in audio-video promotions at golfing supply outlets.

Advertisers also count on demonstrations to produce lasting loyalties among consumers to brands and marketers. Timex watches, for example, were subjected to "torture test" demonstrations for many years to build a reputation for toughness and reliability for the brand in a campaign from W.B. Doner & Co.

Nestlé Beverage Co.'s launch of Taster's Choice freeze-dried coffee provides a different reason for using demonstrations in the short term. The manufacturer launched the instant coffee by claiming it had better taste. Initial sales were disappointing, and executives learned that consumers were not trying Taster's Choice because they simply did not know how to prepare freeze-dried coffee. Subsequent advertising for Taster's Choice used the demonstration format to show how simple the product is to make: Just add a teaspoonful to a cup of hot water.

Demonstrations are particularly useful in informing people about new products or showing how to use an existing brand in a new way. Conversely, demonstrations may be less effective than other advertising formats when a brand is mature and the audience already knows its benefits and how to use it.


The Federal Trade Commission recognizes two potential problems caused by demonstrations. The FTC is concerned with protecting citizens from misleading and deceptive advertising, and because demonstrations offer the promise of reliable performance and tangible benefits, the FTC carefully examines product demonstrations for accuracy and relevance. Second, false and deceptive demonstrations can unfairly disparage competitive brands in the eyes of customers. Advertisers that use demonstrations must be prepared to prove that their testing procedures are valid and to provide support for the claims made in a demonstration.

Comparative ads must meet a set of criteria in order to be lawful. For example, non-users of the advertised product cannot be used in preference tests; a marketer's superiority in distribution cannot be used to imply customer preference for its product; and the "triple association" method should be used in taste tests. (In triple association, subjects blindly judge—without brand names—three samples. Two of the samples contain the same brand; the third sample contains another brand. To subjectively judge one brand's superiority, participants must successfully distinguish the two brands from one another and state a preference for one brand over the other.)

E-commerce and the Internet also are opening newer and more effective ways to demonstrate products and services. Consumers sitting at their home computers can assess a hotel's rooms, activities and amenities, no matter where in the world the hotel is located. Virtual reality also allows high school students, for example, to tour universities remotely.

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