Truth In Advertising (A rebuttal)

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.

matt TVSince 1912, the credo of McCann Erickson has been, ‘Truth Well Told.’ I believed in it when I started there as a young art director working on the Coca-Cola account, and I still believe in it today, years after leaving the company. As far as I’m concerned, it’s what every advertising writer, art director and creative director should strive for: Tell the story of a brand in an intelligent, engaging, emotionally bonding and, yes, truthful way.

Modern history can be told in a series of impactful, truthful tag lines, alongside the advertising that goes with them. The most perceptive lines are a reflection of their time, mirroring the societal comportment of the moment in a way no one had heard before, yet everyone can instantly relate to. Some speak directly to the zeitgeist, emphatically echoing the defining social spirit of the time, and some go so far as to change it and the collective dialogue for generations to come.

The feminist movement of the ‘70s was given a calling card with L’Oreal’s ‘Because I’m Worth It.’ To this day it instills self-confidence, pride and moxie in women around the globe.

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ splashed every shoe box they sold with inspiration and, along the way, brought out that little bit of big-time-athlete in us all.

In 1984, Apple computer was launched by the most famous Super Bowl spot in history with the claim: ‘On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”’ That seminal spot ran just once, and the brand that ‘Thinks Different’ went on to change the world.

For nearly 20 years, who hasn’t reacted to MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ campaign, with its narratives centered around one of our universal truths: meaningful experiences with family and friends trump money.

Of course, nothing ruins great creative more quickly and thoroughly than a bad product. There are those times when, after creative is developed and executed, quality control drops the ball or service just generally declines. Unfortunately, “truth well told” can quickly become “lies well sold,” and those once lauded products just as quickly become part of a standup bit in the blink and twinkle of an ad agency’s eye. The solution? Come up with a solution. The offending agency should have been the first to honestly admit the problem, then go about fixing it.

And, needless to say, public relations campaigns aren’t immune to this phenomenon. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dishonest. That’s just too simple. When good advertising goes bad, you can’t always blame the creative. That’s just too simple.

Now, that’s truth in advertising.


3 thoughts on “Truth In Advertising (A rebuttal)

  1. You must be a blast at a cocktail party. Bottom-line: a newspaper editor would never suggest United’s skies are friendly. United’s ad agency, though, actually boasts about what is clearly untrue.

  2. Great post, Matt. And, naturally, there are still some great and authentic advertising campaigns being made. The majoority, though, continue to make two fundamental mistakess: they talk AT the consumer and they make brand promises that they, the advertisers, know are false. Anyone who has done the least bit of research, knows that United’s skies are anything BUT friendly. And McDonald’s “I’n lovin’ it!” Is a very sad double entendre for damage their food is doing to our country’s health. Exactly what are Mickey D lovers loving? Diabetes? High blood pressure?
    Last, but not least, you are are correct in calling out the PR firms that also communicate false messages that don’t align with the actual end user experience. But, here’s the BIG difference you’re missing between advertising and PR, Matt. The Fourth Estate (ie credible journalists) are trained to vett the marketing messages and pitches they receive from PR types. Only after it passes their standards of objectivity and newsworthiness will the PR message see the light of day. That’s why consumers trust editorial more than they do advertising. They know reporters are looking to educate and inform as opposed to marketing souls like us who are hired to sell our clients’ products, services and organizational know-how.

    • The Fourth Estate?

      Media bias
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      Media bias is the bias or perceived bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of events and stories that are reported and how they are covered. The term “media bias” implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the perspective of an individual journalist or article. The direction and degree of media bias in various countries is widely disputed.

      Practical limitations to media neutrality include the inability of journalists to report all available stories and facts, and the requirement that selected facts be linked into a coherent narrative.[1] Government influence, including overt and covert censorship, biases the media in some countries, for example North Korea and Burma.[2] Market forces that result in a biased presentation include the ownership of the news source, concentration of media ownership, the selection of staff, the preferences of an intended audience, and pressure from advertisers.

      There are a number of national and international watchdog groups that report on bias in the media.

      Types of bias:
      The most commonly discussed forms of bias occur when the media support or attack a particular political party, candidate, or ideology, but other common forms of bias include:

      Advertising bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please advertisers.
      Corporate bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please corporate owners of media.
      Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone.
      Sensationalism, bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary, giving the impression that rare events, such as airplane crashes, are more common than common events, such as automobile crashes.
      Concision bias, a tendency to report views that can be summarized succinctly, crowding out more unconventional views that take time to explain.
      Other forms of bias including reporting that favors or attacks a particular race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnic group, or even person.

      Stefano Mario Rivolta lists three forms of media bias:[3]

      gate keeping bias, i.e., deciding whether to release a story or keep it under wraps (see spike)
      coverage bias
      statement bias