Why ‘up to’ means nothing at all

November 2, 2015

The sale looked impressive – posters in the window guaranteed savings of “up to” 80%. Wow. We were about to go into the store when my friend asked: “But what does that mean?”

A moment’s thought, then we realised – it meant next to nothing at all. Unfortunately, the phrase seems to have become something of a marketing mantra lately. For instance, while I was watching TV this evening (“A Place in the Sun”, since you ask), during the same ad break two different adverts brandished the “up to”  promise. The first was for a shampoo that promised the elimination of “up to 100%” of visible flakes; the second a female sanitary product which boasted it prevented “up to 100%” of leaks.

The promises sound great – after all, who wouldn’t want 100% of something? But the problem, of course, is that isn’t the same as “up to” 100%, which could be any value at all. Strictly speaking, it must mean at least one person has experienced (or could experience) complete elimination of those embarrassing bodily problems which the shampoo and the pads purported to solve.

Same thing with the sale – at least one item ought to be reduced by 80%, but that tells you nothing at all about everything else. If the price of that 4K TV is only reduced by 2%, then that’s still a reduction of “up to 80%”. Heck, why don’t the marketeers go one step further: “Sale on today – up to 120% off”, anyone?

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