THE ADVERTISING TRADE
Are consumers more gullible now than in days gone by?
This was originally written in response to someone else’s tirade against advertising. The author states up front that he is an amateur. There was so much wrong with the article that it made me truly sad that so many people have clapped for it, so I felt compelled to address a few of the issues it raised.
DISCLAIMERS: 1. I have had a 30 year career in advertising. 2. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and I am not naive about the profession…. However, here are a few thoughts to think about.
The author began by saying that advertising is about one thing: Manipulation. When people say this are they suggesting that people have no responsibility for the decisions they make because they absolutely can’t help themselves? The ad agency that can produce those kinds of results would be kings of the universe. If only it were only that simple.
Blaming advertising for our bad decisions is like like blaming our parents or our peers for our bad choices. As if we ourselves have absolutely no responsibility.
I used to have a list on my wall of the various purposes of advertising. Among other things the list included: To Inform. To Educate. To Persuade.
Examples of the first. You open a new restaurant. You want people to know where it is located and what the hours are. Or you’re having a sale on diamond-cutters. You advertise in a publication that diamond-cutters might read, telling the price and reasons why yours is a good value.
The author made an assertion that old time advertising was more honest. It was obvious they were trying to sell.
Does this mean that the public has become increasingly stupid over time and doesn’t realize today that advertisers have an agenda? Yes they want to sell… and in fact, before laws were passed requiring truth in advertising, all kinds of BS was pawned off on a gullible public. P.T. Barnum said more than a century ago that a sucker was born every minute.
The author wrote, “In the 21st century, you can hardly find any sincerity or truth in advertising.” The only accurate thing in this statement is that in the 21st century there have been shifts in advertising… In many circles advertising has evolved to be little more than branding. Super Bowl commercials are a case in point. It doesn’t matter how silly or sentimental an ad is, as long as a good feeling is generated and we (the viewer) associate it with the brand, which is the goal in many instances.
Going back to truth in advertising, I once produced a radio spot that aired nationally on CBS radio affiliate stations and I was required to submit documentation for 13 of the assertions I made in a 60 second spot. The radio station would be accountable if the content was not truthful, and my company was also accountable for the accuracy of our claims.
This stringent requirement — to have facts all documented — is a contributing factor toward the move to focus on feelings. I mean how much can McDonald’s really say about their burgers that you don’t already know? So they show a pair of golden arches and pop the words “Lovin’ It” on a screen. How evil is this really? Why are you watching TV anyways when there is a whole world of activity out there, invalids you can visit and elderly who need the leaves in their yards raked?
If you want to talk about manipulating the masses, let’s talk about PR. I’ve written quite a bit about that, too… It used to be called Propaganda, until some guy name Goebbels gave propaganda a bad name.
By means of propaganda the U.S. has conducted wars and overthrown rightfully elected leaders. It’s much more veiled than advertising, which is more direct and in your face.
Sorry for the rant… and much more could be said. Every once in a while I feel need to give a little pushback on these matters, especially when they’re uninformed.
Originally published at https://medium.com on October 20, 2018. A link to the original article I was responding to is also there.