Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are we about to converge?

         We were brought up on television, and even if the Internet eventually takes it over (the word is "convergence") we'll still be watching commercials. Nobody has found a better way to charge for original content, although they certainly are trying.

          One question is to what degree will advertisers be able to influence where and how their commercials will be seen.

          For example, many airlines stipulate the their commercials cannot be run right after an airplane crash. Beer and wine advertisers won't let their commercials be shown on any program depicting drunks. Food advertisers don't allow their commercials run adjacent to advertising for heartburn or upset stomach medication, and Chevrolet doesn't want bad guys driving Chevys, and doesn't want Chevys to be driven recklessly or crash.

         To advertisers, this "protection situation" seems completely reasonable. Problem is, sometimes content producers "tone down" the content to make it more acceptable to those paying the bills. There are actually firms whose business is screening shows with this in mind.

         This is important to all of us as citizens, because how we view the world --- and how our kids will--- is influenced by television programs. Do we really want our view of the world pre-screened by advertisers?

          I believe children should be taught how to watch commercials and how to read ads. They should be informed of the methods used, such as exaggeration, as well as how to distill accurate information.

          It's not always easy. Unfortunately, techniques carried over from propaganda are used by some every day. The "bandwagon" technique (everybody's switching to our product); "New and improved" (compared to what?); "name calling (brand X and "ordinary" products); and more. There are also the visual associations of cowboys and cigarettes, life in the Hamptons and preppy clothes; sexual symbolism and fragrances. What are the unspoken promises?

          These are just some of the techniques advertising shouldn't use, but sometimes does. So is the use of evasive language. "Fights tooth decay"certainly doesn't mean eliminating it. "Two out of three people prefer" could be a survey of three people. An insecticide that "kills bugs dead"isn't any better than one that kills bugs, period.

          These are abuses of good advertising, and we should all be aware of them.

          I've been in advertising my entire adult life and I certainly don't want to knock it or bite the brand that feeds me.

          I respect good, honest advertising's ability to sell things, and I don't want anything to cheapen or diminish my profession.


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