Greatest Hits: Truth in Advertising

Originally posted on August 3, 2012. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Don Draper and the gang on “Mad Men” may be all the rage right now, but I’ve been a fan of advertising since a very, very young age. My interest only intensified as the years flew by and I also became a pop culture junkie (in junior high school) and an English major (in college).

And I never looked back.

These days, I often find myself looking for old gas station signs as I drive down country roads, admiring the finds on the History Channel hit “American Pickers,” and yes, surfing the internet for interesting ads and marketing campaigns, both past and present. The tackier or edgier something is, the more I love it. Kitsch is cool, and there is plenty of stuff floating around cyberspace to keep me busy.

To me, the most fascinating thing about advertising is the way it helps to record human history. We are consumers, so what better way to trace our modern evolution than to look at the way products and services are marketed to us? People work hard for their money and they want to spend it on things they need, like or simply desire. Face it, we’re capitalists—here in America, at least—and advertising, whether we admit it or not, shows us exactly what we can do to improve and enrich our lives. “Buy this and you will be happy,” they call to us. “It’s the American way.”

One thing that amazes me is the way advertising has changed since the days of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Some older ads now seem shocking and even irresponsible, like these from 7-up and the Soda Pop Board of America.

Can you imagine starting your kids on soft drinks when they’re babies? I mean, my sister was in the Peace Corps in a certain South American country and witnessed mothers feeding their children red soda pop regularly, but this was in a remote, jungle region and the people were incredibly poor. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to happen as often in the USA, but who knows since advertisers obviously targeted the little ones.

And how about this advertisement for Sisley Fashions?

Models trying to snort a fancy dress. What will they think of next?

I do have a problem with misleading or misguided advertising. Consider this ad from the 1960s that is both sexual and, in my opinion, degrading to women.

That’s right. Nothing says “I love you, baby” like some cigar smoke blown in your face. Of course, this more contemporary print ad for Burger King isn’t much better.

It looks like she’s about to get seven inches of meaty pleasure, and all for the low, low price of $6.25. Of course, I feel really sorry for the smaller, more average-sized sandwiches.

What I want to see is more truth in advertising. Don’t show me a woman showering and nearing orgasm simply because her shampoo smells so terrific. Or a guy pumping on some body spray and immediately being ravaged by beautiful women. There’s no truth in that and, if there is, then I’m definitely buying the wrong products.

I suppose the consequence of truth in advertising would be extreme truth or worse. Check out this ad I found recently.

This isn’t something I particularly mind—as inappropriate as it may seem—but I’m sure it would offend the American public at large. That is if they aren’t too busy either supporting or boycotting Chick-fil-A to notice.

I guess what I want is for advertisers to be straight with us. And it wouldn’t hurt if some of the truth they offered seeped into other aspects of American life, either. For instance, I worked in food service for roughly 15 years and oftentimes would have liked to display this closing sign.

This kind of image could increase awareness among our tattooed brethren.

New markets would open up for all sorts of products.

Everyday decisions might be easier to make.

Eating out could include more of an educational component.

And even someone’s ultimate demise might be tinged with dark humor.

Of course, there might be some disadvantages to all this truth, too. Businesses could potentially bite themselves in the “you-know-what.”

Children’s heroes might fall from grace.

Tourism could suffer.

And the “normal” activities of small-town America—like yard sales—might take a far-too-revealing turn.

So I’m not really sure what the answer is. People always criticize advertising for misrepresenting products and I’ve even heard accusations of advertisers lying to consumers. While this may be true in some cases, I ask you this:

Can we really handle the truth?

Posted on July 5, 2013, in Perspectives, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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