The truth in advertising


I do not normally discuss advertising on Triggerpulling, but since it is such an important part of any communication plan I will take a short sidestep into the world of television advertising. Specifically, about the truth. Or the lack of it. And about the importance of language.

A recent television campaign for toothpaste features Shakira and the statement „Shakira’s secret for an amazing smile? Doing what she loves!”. Another recent ad for pizzas mentions: „If you think you have had the best pizza in the world, then you haven’t had ours yet!”.

So what are they saying? Shakira’s smile has nothing to do with the toothpaste. And the best pizza is physically unobtainable due to errors in semantics.

Spend a little time analyzing the next commercial block you see. The number of ads that feature linguistic errors, obvious lies and empty claims is staggering. Proof that isn’t in fact proof. Sentences that mean nothing. Evidence that cannot possibly be real. Terribly poor acting from pretend satisfied customers. Many commercials are of appalling quality.

So why is that? A lack of budget? Time? Interest?

The costs of commercial production are only a fraction of what it costs to air an ad. So no, money is not the issue.

A lack of time then? True, commercials are often produced on a tight time schedule. But not necessarily one that prohibits them from being decent. So it would be too easy to blame a lack of time.

A lack of interest then? Do brands simply not care about the quality of their commercials?

We might be onto something here. People want to be lied to. They like to see something that is way better than is actually possible. Over promising under performing actually works in the crazy world of advertising. So why bother making something beautiful and classy? When a blatant lie and screaming at people sells the goods?

So no. Many advertisers simply do not care about quality. They need to make something that sells.

In my opinion this is a short term strategy that reeks of short-sightedness. Annoying the viewer might get him/her to remember your product at point of purchase, but what does it do for your brand in the long term? How about your image in the long term?

Linguistic errors in commercials are simply unforgivable. Seriously, which company briefs their agency with: „We’d like to come across quite stupid”? Have two or three people check the text. The pizza-paradox above could have been prevented. By a toddler.

Lies are a different matter. They just seem to work. Once a buyer discovers your claims are false, a psychological mechanism called cognitive dissonance still makes it quite hard for him/her to admit the purchase was a mistake. Still, what are you saying about yourself? You are basically saying that you have so little respect for your customers that you do not mind lying to them. You cannot even be bothered to cover it up cleverly!

Particularly cosmetics brands are repeat offenders here. Launching product upon product with a promise that comes down to: „No seriously, this time it is real. You really will look ten years younger!”. Perhaps the short lifespan of products in the cosmetics industry is linked to these constant false promises.

On the other end of the spectrum we find Volkswagen. Particularly their campaigns for the Golf. As a rule, they are always based on a truth. Sometimes even at the Golf’s own expense. The smart thing is that this fresh approach hits home with potential Golf buyers. And why change a winning team? The car and its ad style have become legendary. Arbitrarily one of the most successful products ever.

What do you guys think? Should advertising be truthful? Is quality important? Or is all that matters what sells and what doesn’t?

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