Advertising, can we cut it some slack?

It occurred to me the other day, as I saw a bumper sticker that said ADVERTISING LIES, that advertising seems to be, in and of itself, a nebulous entity that everyone feels comfortable hating. There are at least three threads in the Pit right now about various commercials we all hate or find offensive. The great debates thread about self image is greatly immersed in advertising.

We all complain that stadiums and sports events and outdoor festivals are corporate sponsored. We hate that Howard Stern plays 18 minutes of commercials an hour.

But really, what’s the problem? Companies have to tell us somehow what their product is. Somehow I have to know that they have a mozzarella chicken sandwich at Wendy’s, or else I wouldn’t buy it. And thank god I know, because it’s a good sandwich.

And yes, some commercials and advertising exagerate. There’s a commercial on my radio station that jokingly says becoming a bartender will make you thinner and more attractive to the opposite sex. It’s a joke! of course I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that any more than I believe a Volkswagen will make me hip and sexy.

So the question and debate is…what IS the inherent problem we all have with the big word “ADVERTISING”. Do we believe that corporations and businesses should not be allowed to tell us what their product is? Do you believe that advertising expects us to believe that we’ll look like Halle Barry if we wear Revlon, because I know I don’t.

So what’s the deal with the rancor towards advertising?


Rather than rehash the magnificent arguments in Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from the Baffler, I would just encourage you to peel out to your bookstore and buy it. It just might change your life.

Thanks to Gadarene for making me read it. :wink:

You may find it here.


I’ll be honest with you Maeglin, I’m just a caveman, and besides being completely stumped by the TITLE of the book, I tried to read the editorial comment on it and nearly burst into tears.

i’m afraid I’ll need the “we hate big business for dummies” version. :smiley:


Its not the message, its the way they say it. Wendy’s is usually pretty good, their gimmicks to announce a new sandwich or new operating hours are gentle and do not use insulting sterotypes to “inform” us of new stuff.

This is okay or even good advertising.

Its the marketing campaigns that focus on using a poor sterotype or degrading message to sell that I have a problem with. I don’t mind being told about a new razor or lipstick formula. I do mind being told that I’m ugly/worthless/stupid if I don’t buy them. I don’t mind Rogaine being sold to people who want more hair. I do mind that the marketing focus seems to be that hair will keep your wife in love with you. Its insulting.

Want more hair? Fine. Being told that you are less lovable with less hair is not fine.

(I also have huge beefs with the designer drugs that have ads with no information in them, just pictures of sunny days and happy gatherings, go ask your doctor if Brand Name Y is right for you. No, I won’t. Not until you tell me what it does. Thanks.)

Funny you should mention this - a few months ago, my 7-year-old was watching a Prilosec commercial, with happy people fluttering gaily about. He turned to me and said, “I want the little purple pill!”

Believe me, we had a talk about that.

I guess I don’t mean offensive or misleading advertising, I definitely understand that.

But, for example, my friend and I were at Market Days on Halsted street this weekend (a big, raucous street fair in Chicago), and a guy came up and said,

“Girls, you’re not leaving this fair without a complimentary issue of Pride magazine.”

I took it, said thank you and moved on. My friend, looked at him and said,

“Doesn’t it kill you to know you’re a corporate whore?”

Corporate whore? The magazine needs circulation. What is he supposed to do?


Madison Avenue (or where ever big advertising calls home these days) show damn-all respect for us, what with it’s condescending and insulting campaigns. Why shouldn’t I be pissed at someone who tries to sneak money out of my wallet by sneering at me?

Show me an original and non-condescending ad, and I’m pleased to watch it. Show me a non-condescending ad, even if it’s not original, and I’ll watch it without complaint. But far too many ads these days are insulting, condescending, or worse, manipulatively evil, and they damn-well deserve my ire.

I hate the uninformative “happy people” drug ads, too. However, ISTR reading somewhere on the boards that the FCC requires that they can only point out 2 of 3 pieces of information:

  1. Name of the drug
  2. Manufacturer of the drug
  3. What the drug does

If that’s true, it would explain the strange nature of many a drug ad…

Of course, now that I mostly use my TV for watching DVD’s and PBS, I don’t see too many advertisements any more.

So what’s a good example? Using humor is always dangerous because you never know who you’ll offend (the Pemmican beef jerky ads being a prime example of an ad that everyone loves and I find nauseating), we can’t use sex or violence because of the “children”, we can’t make bold claims. What can we do?

Or do we think that commercials should just be a white screen with black letters that says “Wendy’s Now Has Chicken Fingers”

Here’s my take on advertising.

It’s misleading. I don’t mean deliberately, jaw-droppingly dishonest here, but that advertising often bends the truth to the extent that the most intelligent, rational people do not have the time or inclination to fathom the real truth. Manipulative wording, appeals to emotion and so on – there’s nothing there about the product’s qualities at all. Example: in Australia, McDonald’s sells hamburgers in wrappers stamped “100% Australian beef”, presumably to imply a concern for the local economy. The beef, however, is largely imported – by a company legally named “100% Australian beef”.

It’s unwanted. While some advertising is useful in supplying details of product information (although not always honestly - see above), most of it is unwanted. For the odd TV advert that sparks my interest, I must sit through dozens that don’t. I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio for the adverts, so I’m left feeling that it’s taking away from my leisure/entertainment time.

It’s wasteful. Junk mail. That’s all.

It’s patronising. I don’t have so much of a problem with this one, since I don’t expect all advertisers to be targetting me personally, but aiming for a lowest common denominator. But, when you mix it with the manipulative tone of a lot of adverts you wonder whether ‘patronising’ is the right word.

In all, I don’t have a problem with advertising per se. It’s an inevitable side-effect of free-market capitalism, as far as I’m concerned, and you can’t have one without the other. Having said that, I also think that advertisers will try anything to sell a product, and that bothers me.

Oops. I meant to say “…to the extent that even the most intelligent…” here

Has anyone else read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard? I know he’s a little hysterical, but some of the points make you think twice.

The Sprite commercials with the black and white, neat beat manipulation and sort of a Drink Sprite note at the end. No sneer. (And I love Sprite!)

I also like the car commercial (jetta?) where the guy pulls up next to a cute girl and they do eye-flirting for a bit until the light changes and the kid in the back seat throws a stuff octopus at him. Its cute, its emotional, and not once does it say that your car will get you laid. It says that people with feeling can have families and a neat car…and still be people.

They don’t have to be white screen, they just have to lose some of the insulting/sneering methods.

I think many people are offended that we can be so easily swayed by glitter or bogus celebrity endorsment. It’s a “don’t insult my intelligence” issue, especially when advertisers take the common approach of appealing to the LCD (lowest common denominator). “How dare that company suggest I would swallow such tripe”, for example.

I can see why standard advertising yanks the chains of many of the SDMB members with the large amount of hyperbole & repeated use of logical fallacies; something we try to fight on these boards. Some might even replace the word hyperbole with plain old exaggerations & lies, or if you are very cynical just call it all propaganda.

A few logical fallacies I can think of:

  1. Celebrity endorsment = appeal to authority
  2. Use our product or suffer the consequences of not using it = false dilemma
  3. Children are starving = appeal to pity
  4. Our product is the most popular! = appeal to popularity
  5. Jane & John benifited from our product, so everybody should buy it = fallacy of composition (or generalization)
  6. “Don’t be fooled by cheap immitations” = poisoning the well
  7. Use Crest toothpaste or all of your teeth will fall out = slippery slope
  8. Repeated showing of same ad again & again = argument ad nauseum (can you say “thighmaster”?)
  9. Product is “new & improved” = argumentum ad novitatem (appeal to youth or newness)
  10. “Millions have used product X for 100 years” = argumentum ad antiquitatem (appeal to established practice)
  11. Product X is better than product Y = appeal to assertion
  12. Miss Cleo = appeal to ignorance

I may have gotten the names of some of the fallacies wrong, but I know that last one really gets our collective goat.

Now that I think about it, you could probably match up any number of fallacies to most commercial advertisements. Perhaps that is what the problem is- the very nature of advertizing is one of illogical appeal.

With so much of that bombarding the airwaves, I often find myself in automatic BS detection mode when the commercials start playing. After spending so much time in that defensive position , virtually everything presented to me is automatically assumed to be false, unless I can verify the assertions with my own personal brain or evidence readily at my fingertips.

Keep in mind one important difference between the UK and the USA: Here, the advertising is what makes TV and radio possible. There is no U.S. equivalent of the BBC and its attendant functions, so TV and radio programming (with a few exceptions) exist to deliver audiences to advertisers by showing programs that the target audiences want to watch or hear.

True, pldennison, I think that’s a weak point on my part. I realise that the TV channels rely on advertising, so while it’s still unwanted it’s definitely necessary from their point of view.

Attrayant and Crusoe both make very good points. I think that for some people, there’s another factor at work; namely, they don’t like corporations (look at the comment made by jarbabyj’s friend). Advertising is something they associate with corporations, and therefore they dislike it.

Now, if you want to puzzle over why people dislike corporations, that’s probably a matter for another thread. But it does seem to be relevant to this discussion.

Well, one thing we can do is stop sending messages that you’ve got to meet certain sterotypes or be left out of love’s light (Rogane commercials, weight-control programs and foods), or that possessing the correct accoutrements will make us romanticly successful (any number of car and clothing ads).

Pharmacuetical ads that fail to mention the indications for the drug they’re advertising are irresponsible, IMO (I consult to Big Pharma, I know how their advertising works: The TV spots could be done better).

I could go on, but I’m sure you can supply from your own mind a list far longer than I’m willing to type. As for “good” commercials, well just to name a few that stuck in my mind:

  • The Remington Micro-Screen Electric Razor (“I liked it so much I bought the company…”)
  • Wendys (the Dave Thomas spots)
  • Taco Bell (the early talking chihuahua ads)

Unfortunately, there have been so may bad ads on the tube of late that I’ve turned off my cable again, so I can’t give you a laundry list of recent ads. Actually, your last quip, I sure meant to be tounge-in-cheek, isn’t too bad an idea, IMO. Maybe include a picture of the product in question. I’ll know it’s available, and If I want to try it, I will. There’s nothing insulting or deceptive about that, and that level of understatement actually is more effective on me, as I’m prone to patronize companies that don’t manipulate in their ads.

You hear that, Madison Ave? If you want to manipulate me, don’t try manipulating me!

I would have put Wendy’s on my short list of decent advertizing a few days ago, but they lost my vote with their latest “plump chicken” ads.

Although I don’t have much of a problem with the rest of your arguements, this sounds an awful lot like an UL along the lines of This one

My biggest complaint (rancor is too strong of a word for me, I don’t have the energy to foster a really good rancor towards much) with advertising is that I always feel that I’m not the demographic.

Let’s take the renaming of Joe Robbie Stadium as Pro Player Stadium. In my fantasy world, companies like Pro Player (which I think is a division of Fruit of the Loom) would sponsor a stadium, and have a big press conference and say “We’re proud to support the Miami Dolphins, and proud of the legacy of Joe Robbie, so we’re just going to stick with the Joe Robbie name, and casually remind you that the folks at Pro Player make quality products that you should buy.” If this were to ever happen, I would be so impressed with Pro Player that I would go out of my way to buy their products. Of course, this will never happen. The people at Pro Player have studied their market, and I’m sure that if it were more profitable to stick with Joe Robbie, that’s what they would have done. This is a big investment for them, so changing the stadium name reflects their expectation that their sales will increase more than if they had kept the old name.

It’s a company doing what will be the most profitable for them. But it does make me wonder if I am one of .001% of the market who would be more supportive of keeping Joe Robbie, or part of 25% of the market. From the company’s point of view, it doesn’t matter. Neither 25% nor .001% are of interest to the company when it is trying to reach the majority of a particular demographic.

I realize that this is a personal opinion, and I don’t expect a company to ignore the majority of potential customers simply to please me. But that is why I’m usually somewhat sour about advertising.