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Sensodyne is famously known for saying "Recommended by nine out of ten dentists".

Since being introduced in 1961, Sensodyne has become the favorite sensitive toothpaste of dentists around the world. In fact, 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Sensodyne and Pronamel as the brand for Acid Wear.

--http://www.sensodyne-me.com/

Is this "nine out of ten" actually based on unbiased tests or statistics, or is just a slogan come up by a marketing department?

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    Also, why is that tenth dentist so opposed to the brand? Does he know something that we don't? "Sensodyne is people!" – IQAndreas Jan 8 '14 at 12:46
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    re-edited as per OP's clarification – Sklivvz Jan 8 '14 at 13:06
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    Reminds me of an unsubstantiated rumour I heard: that Oral-B donates dozens or hundreds of free toothbrushes to each dentist, so the dentist gives them out to patients, so they could claim 9 out of every 10 dentists recommend them, when really the dentists considered them a commodity. – Oddthinking Jan 8 '14 at 13:48
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    9 out of 10 dentists will recommend anything, as long as you can choose the 10 dentists. – leonbloy Jan 9 '14 at 19:29
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    9 out of 10 dentists hand out the freebies they were given. – Benjol Jan 10 '14 at 14:32
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Such statements are not to be intended in the "scientific" sense. They are marketing materials and are not claimed to be representative of all dentists.

Stock phrases such as "Recommended by nine out of ten dentists" in commercials for non-prescription consumer healthcare products such as Sensodyne toothpaste are devised by the parent company's Global Planning team based on large marketing surveys conducted by designated market research firms such as IPSOS. Analysis by the brand's agency partner into Sensodyne's advertorials revealed that when dentists explained the benefits of its toothpaste, it helped growing the sales of the product. Robert J. Morais in the book Advertising and Anthropology: Ethnographic Practice and Cultural Perspectives states, "I was a member of an advertising agency team that developed a highly inventive advertising strategy intended to ignite Sensodyne sales. The strategy was created through a leap of insight that led to repositioning Sensodyne to dental professionals and consumers."

Per tvtropes, the sample size and population mentioned in the phrase can be anything from having a panel of only ten doctors asked (and may be cherrypicking doctors until they get the result they want). This biased research might be the fact which the advertiser wants to portray as the "research statistics" for their products. Confirmation bias which is the tendency for people to search out statistics that support their preconceived notions and ignore other negative statistics that do not confirm to their belief seems to be used by advertisers for their market advantage. Also sometimes, appeal to authority which is a person noting his own occupation as a legitimate argument to get people to take the commercial seriously is also used by advertisers for their own profit and if someone does inquire about the dentists they surveyed, the toothpaste company could also just say that they cannot reveal that information on the grounds of confidentiality.

The whole business of showing percentages to people in advertising is mainly for the market advantage of the product when compared to similar items. Also relative measures are more likely to be understood accurately, and thus are less likely to be used in advertising. Studies by researchers in 2009 show that even when consumers can directly experience the relevant products and the specifications carry little or no new information, their preference is still influenced by specifications that are self-generated and by definition spurious and specifications that the respondents themselves deem uninformative.

Sensodyne was first made available in 1961 by Block Drug. It has rapidly grown globally and become the dentists’ sensitivity toothpaste of choice in many markets since GlaxoSmith-Kline’s acquisition of the brand per Ipsos Healthcare Professional Mouth Care full year 2010 survey. In 1993, the Advertising Standards Authority investigated ‘advertorials’ from Sensodyne against the background of a 47% growth in the use of this technique.

Per Cecil Adams of straight dope, the original instance of this phrase comes from the Warner-Lambert Company, makers of Trident sugarless gum who commissioned a market research firm to survey dentists in July 1976. The research firm team came up with a list of 1,200 dentists who were supposed to represent a cross-section of their profession. The dentists were asked what they recommended to their gum-chewing patients- sugared gum, sugarless gum, or no gum at all. Sugarless gum recommended percentage was 85 percent and hence from then on sugarless gum commercials have said, "Sugarless gum is recommended by four out of five dentists for their patients who chew gum."

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    Apart from cherry-picking and biased sampling, they can also get the results they want by framing bias: ie. tweaking the way the questions are phrased. For instance, it's never explained what he dentists recommend Sensodyne over. I'd guess all ten of them would recommend Sensodyne over not brushing your teeth. – Peter Sep 22 '15 at 7:57
  • @nomenagentis I've added the first sentence. Evidence is in paragraph 3. The claim is believed to be both meaningful and truthful, and this answer shows it is not meaningful. At this point, its truth becomes irrelevant. – Sklivvz Sep 23 '15 at 23:15

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