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Honesty in advertising

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Advertising. We all know it as something Don Draper does when he’s not drinking enough to kill a small animal and sleeping with women during his coffee breaks. Mad Men gave us the image of slick, smart people finding ways to tap into the psyche of the population, riding the zeitgeist of the times to make us think we need something we didn’t even know we wanted. The ad men (and Peggy, of course) always seemed a step ahead of the public.

But whether advertising was intelligent at one time, subtle and sophisticated, I wonder if it can ever be that way again in the age of mass information – the era of the hyper-informed viewer. We know too much now. It’s hard to lie to us. We’ve heard it all before. And we’re highly skeptical.

Advertisements have come a long way in their cleverness to deceive, though. Take the new practice of native advertising for example: combining advertising and journalism to hide ads in plain sight, or the technique of placing marketing material on vacant community walls disguised as murals. The strategy seems to be: disguise the medium, which I think is not only dishonest, but insidious. There needs to be more transparency. And not only in the actual medium of advertising, but in the message itself (Mcluhan’s probably rolling in his grave at my butchering of his ideas).

But, essentially, what I want is more honesty in advertising.

Here is the basic message of most print/television/web ads: you are important to us, buy our product, we are a good company, blah, blah, corporate blah. Maybe I’m just jaded, but maybe it’s time that advertising started appealing to the way people actually think now.

For example, I passed bus stop recently and noticed an ad from a well-known chain telling us that everything they do, they are doing for us Canadians. Holy sweet Bryan Adams that’s a piece of roll your eyes b.s. It so laughable, it completely undermines any message they are trying to send. I mean, really? EVERYTHING you are doing is for little ol’ us? Really? How special. I thought you were just like any other big corporation seeking endless profits and finding ways to minimize food sizes and raise prices to the point that will maximize every cent while squashing any attempts to organize labour.

How about a little more honesty in your advertising, so I don’t throw up next time I walk past your ad? It would go a long way with people like me. And it really is time for a fresh strategy, some experimentation at least. Here’s my suggestion for a new message, something like: “Hey, we’re not just here to make you happy – obviously we have to make money, but we do kind of like you and if you enjoy our product while we make millions in profit, then we all win! Right? Stop in today.”

And speaking of millions in profit (more like billions), banks need to reconsider their strategy of the constant ‘let’s show smiling customers sitting down with smiling employees like they all just figured out the meaning in of life and then have them exchange some pleasant dialogue and close with someone saying something really cute.’  

I would love to see a more honest approach from this industry. I mean, we’ve all seen the headlines of banks making record profits while implementing mass layoffs. We’ve all seen the endless fees draining our hard-earned money from our accounts one three-dollar bank machine fee at a time. Let’s remember that it is our money they are using to make these billions of dollars, so let’s be a little more up front with us. We’re not idiots.

So, how about a bank CEO on some disgustingly beautiful, private beach with a drink in his/her hand saying, “What other choice do have? Your mattress?” [He/she laughs and takes a sip of his/her drink] “Just relax. You’ve never had it so easy – you can withdraw money anytime of day and interest rates are almost at zero. We are looking out for ourselves first and then our employees and then you. But, you’ve got other things to worry about. We’ll leave you with enough money in your bank to live a comfortable life. Just come bank with us and shut up.”

Now that kind of ad would get my business. I would instantly move all my accounts there. I’m looking for honesty; I respect it; I crave it. I’m not walking around all day smiling like an idiot, so let’s can it with those type of commercials. It’s so easy to see through a message that is lacking honesty these days, and I think the Millenials and Gen Y’s are going to be even more fierce in their condemnation of phoniness. You’ve got an army of Holden Caulfields coming your way so you might want to prepare. What would Don Draper do?


Jesse Wilkinson
Contributor/editor at Rrampt






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Jesse Wilkinson

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