What’s the deal with this Nicorette QuickMist ad?

Watch this:

Looks like a great product, huh? A nice little spray you mist into your gob that makes you stop smoking. I’m not doubting the science behind this. I’m sure the science is very good. It’s the maths at the end I don’t get.

Tackle your cravings fast, making you 150% more likely to quit. For good.

150% likely to quit! Wow! So I’m not only 100% GUARANTEED to quit, but I’ll also have an extra 50% of quittiness for free as well? I might as well start smoking now!

But of course, that’s not what it means. It’s not even what it says. It says “150% more likely to quit.” But what does that mean?

More likely than what? There’s no quantifiable unit of quittingness. You can’t up your quitting stats with a magic mist spray. But they’ve got this number from somewhere, which means they must have derived it from something.

The most likely candidate is they had two samples of people trying to quit and used one as a control. Of the group that used the QuickMist product, 150% more people ended up quitting. Great.

No. Not great. You stupid idiot.

I still don’t know what “150% more” means. Let’s work some numbers.

Say both groups were 100 people. In the control group (ie. the willpower alone group), 50 people successfully gave up. So BY MATHS, we can figure out that in the NICORETTE group…

50 * 150% gave up, which = 75. So 25 more people.

BUT WAIT…

50 * 150% isn’t “150% more” is it? That’s 150% of 50. “150% more” sounds like an increase-of 150%.

are you following all this

So what we’d need to do is take the 150% amount and then add that onto the original amount. EASY.

(50 * 150%) + 50 = 125

Fantastic! The QuickMist product is so effective that not only did every single person in the 100-person group quit smoking, but 25 other people also showed up and quit too!

This is what in philosophy we call a reductio ad absurdum. Our conclusion is clearly ridiculous, so we’ve made an error in reasoning somewhere. But where?

Maybe our numbers our wrong. Let’s try a different scenario. Imagine there’s originally only ONE person quitting in the willpower-only control group. In the QuickMist group, ((1*150%)+1) would quit, which is 2.5.

But why wouldn’t they just say “You’re 2.5 times as likely to quit with…” rather than “150% times more?” Sure, 150 is a bigger number than 2.5, but you can also express that as “250%”. Did they maybe think that 250% was too big a number for people to comprehend? Why else wouldn’t they go for the bigger number?

Maybe it’s because they don’t like “as likely”. “As likely” is less powerful sounding than “more likely”, even though it’s preceded by a big ol’ percentage. Why bother trying to give up with this product if you’re still only something-something as likely as someone just trying really hard on their own?

So basically, I think they meant “50% more” but that was too low. They saw that “50% more” = “150% of” and did some slight-of-hand to replace the word “of” with “more.”

In other words, the only thing this product helps you quit is your grasp on the principles of mathematics!!!!

Behold, the magic of marketing.

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