Commercials, Ads, and Lies

Category: Weekly Columns

Tobacco Ad from Marlboro

I just love commercials and the incredible lies or, to put it nicely, exaggerations that most exclaim. I do enjoy many of the classic commercials from the past and present and get a kick – so to speak – out of the ones made expressly for The Super Bowl. But, if we allow our children to watch a lot of commercial television and therefore a lot of commercials, we are allowing Madison Avenue (yes those “Mad” people) to pollute their minds!

Super Bowl Commercials

In my former career in showbiz, I once met a very famous cinematographer who told me he often loved doing commercials between movies. I was very surprised and asked why? He said it was great money for a short production with only a minute of film ultimately needed. When you think about what some of those big commercials cost – and it can be millions of dollars – they are the most expensive filmmaking produced, period!

But, I digress. I like to digress. This column is about the nonsense of many commercials and the incredible distortions or outright lies that perpetuate this form of advertising and, for me, the incredible naïveté of the consumer that believes much of them! As a parent, it is incumbent upon us to protect our children. We often think of the obvious things to protect them from. This is less obvious but very pernicious.

infographic about commercials

                         I know we can’t read this, but it looks important!

Let’s get started with a random list of claims I’ve observed from my limited television watching and my time listening to radio:

~~ Match any price or it’s FREE – A well-know mattress chain makes this claim. I love it. What does it mean? Oh, if you find a matching price, they’ll give it to you for free? No, they’ll just match the price. But, this has been such a successful campaign and it’s really so stupid!

~~ Money Back Guarantee – Love these money-back guarantees. The consumer has to work a heckuva lot to get the money back, not to mention sending “it” back. It’s a bogus claim because the advertiser knows most people will just throw the thing out (that doesn’t live up to its claims).

Classic Ad for Camel Cigarettes

~~ Free Sample – If you haven’t learned by now that nothing is free, you are going to learn it right NOW. I once called one of these free sample offers. Yes, it was “free” but you had to give your credit card and they would then charge you for the next one, indefinitely. Try and stop those charges? Good luck! Nothing is free!

~~ Call in the Next Fifteen Minutes – this is an all-time favorite of mine, along with “Limited Supply,” because these ads usually run repeatedly for weeks or even months. Does anyone not get this lie?

Old Cigarette Ad

~~ First Fifty Callers – same as the above – how can that be when the same commercial runs for weeks or months?

~~ Strict First-Come, First-Serve Basis – same thing as the previous two. Really, do they think we are that dumb? Evidently, because this line is used over and over again in numerous commercials!

~~ Free MRI Review – I love this one. Yes, it probably is a free MRI “review,” but who pays for the MRI in the first place? Duh!

Ambulance-chasing law firms

~~ Mesothelioma and all other lawyer-sponsored commercials that express the desire to “help you” – yes, their mission is to help YOU! The fact that they take 50% of the “settlement” is much in the small print. Yes, we know how lawyers are so magnanimous!

Geico gekko

~~ “The only hard part is which way is easier” – We’ve all heard this one a gazillion times for a well-known insurance carrier. I like these commercials almost as much as I “like” Flo. Someone tell me what that line even means? “Which way is easier?” – oh, which way to get the insurance? Which way to drive? Which way to the next McDonalds?

~~ “I don’t want to use nicotine to stop smoking” – so, let me get this straight. You’ve been smoking for decades. Now you want to stop. But, to stop you really do need to wean yourself off the drug, just as we do with any drug the vast majority of the time. Just as we do when we want to change any habit. Just as EVERY vaccination has a tiny amount of the virus/disease we’re getting a vaccination for IN the vaccination. Again, dumb!

ServPro logo and tag-line

~~ “Like it never happened!” – I love this claim from a company that cleans up after water or fire damage. Oh yeah, they can reclaim all your lost personal items such as photo albums, special one-of-a-kind art (e.g. from our children) and all the precious things we really care about when such a tragedy occurs. Yeah, SURE!

Note that I haven’t even touched on political ads, perhaps the worst culprit of them all! This list is short and I’d love you to add YOUR favorite commercial – or commercial lie/exaggeration.

Image from GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial

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  • Alli Polin

    I love when I go out with my kids and they tell me “ooohh. Look at that! It comes with shown.” What? They patiently explain the commercial says it comes with shown. Ugh.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Yeah @allipolin:disqus and call RIGHT NOW and you get double the offer! Just pay separate shipping and handling!

      • Mrs. HappyPants

        “Pay the shipping and handling–but we are going to put it all in the same box (at the same time) and ship them together!! That way we get paid TWICE for the grossly inflated cost of boxes, tape, labels while spending NOTHING!” Who could possibly pass up such a generous deal?

        • Bruce Sallan

          Exactly @allipolin:disqus – too good to be true – TRULY!

  • KelliSmithgall

    Wait What?? Nothing is for free? 😉

    • Bruce Sallan

      You can “buy” it @KelliSmithgall:disqus but I know you are smarter than that! Love the new avatar photo!

      • KelliSmithgall

        Whew! As long as I can “buy” it then ha! And, awww, thank you @brucesallan:disqus 🙂

  • Bill Draeger

    You forgot my favorite commercial line: “But wait!”

    • Bruce Sallan

      That’s why I asked for comments @billdraeger:disqus !

      • Bill Draeger

        “But wait!” is usually only heard on TV commercials at 2 in the morning.

  • Stan Faryna

    What is the better ad design? What design rules will allow us to create the better ad – the ad that performs in terms of conversion/sale and, more importantly, honors the dignity of the human person?

    • Bruce Sallan

      @faryna:disqus – the only question I have is last on your list … as least vis-a-vis this column!

  • Pingback: The #Halloween Show - Commercials and Lies | Bruce Sallan Radio Show | Bruce Sallan()

  • David Weber

    I enjoy watching vintage commercials and inspecting old magazine ads. If I was a young fellow when the commercial was aired, I have a nostalgic feeling when I see it now…on youtube, for example. The old mag. ads, such as those for cigarets that accompany this column, are fun because they are so blatantly outrageous by today’s standards…can any of us imagine our physician or dentist recommending that we smoke?
    Something I have read about is that for many years, advertisers are aware that even young consumers are tuned into the hype and cant that constitutes advertising messages. Consumers are aware that hyperbole, exaggeration and read-the-fine-print nuance abound. Accordingly, advertising — at least, the most appealing advertising — has been going in a different direction. The approach has for many years been to associate something memorable with your product, and that something memorable implies something appealing about your product. The commercial (with a photo in this column) in which What’s-Her-Name, the Israeli model, Bar Something, is French-kissing the nerdy computer guy is one such commercial.
    My favorite lie in advertising is more a lie in packaging or merchandising; but that as well as advertising, PR and marketing are genres of strategic communication, so I guess I can bring it up here. When I was young, I loved building model airplanes. (Monogram, not the more well known Revell, made a great product.) I would see a plane I wanted to build and set out to make it look as yare as the plane on the box lid. But my model NEVER, EVER came out looking as good as that one did. My parents had to explain to me that expert craftsmen, with all the time in the world to build the model (because it was their job, not just a hobby that, like me, they engaged in a couple of hours a week, with long gaps of time between models), and who could discard what was not perfect, professionally constructed those models on the lids. They had access to pressure-spray guns to get the paint just right and so on. That actually helped me enjoy model-building more…now it was “do as best as I can” rather than “match the perfection on the box.”
    The problem with this approach is that too often the outrageous element remains in your memory, but the name of the product does not. There are ways of arranging image, sound and text to ensure that at the end of the day, the product name will be remembered.

    • Bruce Sallan

      I so agree @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus – some of the lies just seem more egregious today, but “they” are smarter at it, too! It’s not like Darren in “Bewitched” anymore!