COMMENT: Truthfulness in advertising
by Mike Simon
, December 9, 2010
Blogs and twitters not only breed bad grammar but they introduce an element of irresponsibility into public declarations.
Gone are the day when journos waited until the company lawyer had vetted their controversial stories – now it’s publish and be damned… because there seems to be no authority able to get a grip on those who spin rumours and untrue allegations around the world on the Internet.
This sloppiness has crept into the more legitimate media of press and TV.
Of course we accept the former because it is new media and understand, hopefully, they will become under some (not too much) control and ethics will be introduced into this hyperspace world, but the latter is a regretful step backwards.
Yet, there is no excuse in our legacy media to publish advertising which is not only misleading but in some cases veers on the illegal side.
• Let’s start with simple “misconceptions”. For example, washing powder. When I was young it was “Persil washes whiter”:. Now it seems every soap powder claims to be better than the next – and all use the age old methodology. Show some kid pouring gravy or treacle all over his T-shirt and then his mother being disappointed at the results from “her” washing powder.
Hey presto, a helpful good Samaritan male or female, suddenly appears in the kitchen and so does a glass case in which two shirts are now dipped. Not sure where the other shirt comes from but we are shown that X product makes a poor showing of cleaning the shirt, while the advertised powder makes it whiter than white. My grumble is that how do we know that it is the same dirty shirt which has been cleaned so miraculously?
Having made many commercials, I know the subtle tricks which can be applied to the most honest advertising….dry ice in the tea cup to create the steam, water sprayed on the fruit to make it look fresh…we’ve all done it in the trade. But that’s quite acceptable because steam does come from the tea cup…it just does not last long for the photography and fruit can appear fresher in the rain..though it will not rain in the studio…
• But showing a white shirt without convincing the viewers that it is the same previously stained piece of material is bound to be suspicious, for someone like me. The problem of course for the advertiser is to ensure the viewer, the future customer, believes in the product and that she/he will accept it as reminder of the excellent results which were achieved the last time the product was used. Thirty second commercials can, sort of, be excused for not mentioning specific research results but in press advertising it is fundamental that these statistics are mentioned.
• When it comes to beauty product advertising, some manufacturers actually base their claimed effectiveness of the shampoo or face cream on research figures. Now if you’re watching TV in the UK, as I was recently, it takes about three or four viewings before you realize that there is some small print at the bottom of the advertisement,”45 out of 60 agreed”. In a one-liner in a commercial, of course they cannot state that the 45 were not staff of the company or members of the advertising agency- and I’m not suggesting they were -, nor can they explain what they agreed about…but it would make interesting reading if ever a consumer association queried these claims. Last time I pointed out to my wife that the beautiful model with the long eyelashes advertising the product which enhanced them, the small print had stated” eyelashes were artificially enhanced”. Ditto the shampoo about the hair.. apparently hair pieces were also used.
• But I love the anti-wrinkle creams which are now all the rage with this wanna-be-young-forever society. In a recent newspaper article I read that most of the creams were pretty ordinary and apart from making the women feel good, had no lasting effect. Once again, please read the small print which is forced on the advertisers in the UK” the cream gives the appearance of...”.Not eliminating but giving the “appearance” of making them disappear. But this is fine as long as they don’t use models who are probably under 20 and will not acquire wrinkles for another 20 years at least. Soap advertising is all the rage in the Gulf and I support all effects to improve hygiene, especially among the young, though I form the impression that these are campaigns to promote ordinary tablet soap, rather than the plunger bottles which I thought would be more hygienic. Again, we have no idea what goes into the soap (in the ads) or whether washing in fresh clear water would be just as beneficial.
• Bottled water is important in a region where governments will not hold up their hands up and state that the tap water is 100 per cent drinkable and I always feel sorry for the copywriter. The art directors have an opportunity to illustrate freshness with green trees, or waterfalls – but what can you say about H20? It’s clean and healthy? Well, the authorities would not allow it to be sold if it wasn’t? It tastes nice? Yes, well water usually tastes of…water? My better half says the more expensive French stuff we drink tastes better than the locally brewed…sorry but I cannot taste the difference.. only way is to look at the label and check the percentage of sodium (which is found in common salt ).maybe that’s an idea for a copywriter.
• …Copywriters and the art department must be in constant arguments about car advertising in the Gulf...recently a dealer said he had hand-drawn the cars in the ads to save money with the savings handed on to the customer. My photographer friends would tell you because of the advent of mobile phones with cameras, there are millions of people who think they can take pictures and as a result of this, advertising photography has lost the allure of creativity and the high rates which used to be charged. There has been some great car advertising – I particularly liked the ones when they changed into transformers and those highlighting (not in the Gulf!) their ability to negotiate snowy weather. But the ability of four wheel drives to cross the desert has been used to good effect by advertisers in the Gulf- much better than those showing cars driving along the road…that’s what cars do…they drive along the roads..please tell us why we should buy them.
I’m happy to report that the worst advertising on UK television is not being shown in the Gulf – because I assume it is unlawful to show it here. There is a fairly well-known personality who asks the viewers if they want a short-term loan to tide them over. I am amazed the UK authorities have not banned this commercial for in the small print it states the interest rate payable is 2000 per cent, yes two thousand per cent! At least here, as in most developed countries, financial institutions advertising insurance, pensions, bonds etc make it clear that the investment can go down as well as up…
Make sure you always read the small print.