Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Honesty in advertising. Honestly.

          People are always telling me that advertising manipulates them into buying things they don't want. They go on to talk about dishonesty in advertising --- how McDonald's hamburgers look better on TV, for example. Better than they'd ever be in a restaurant.

           I tell them I know for a fact that things in commercials aren't fabricated to be better than they are. They're simply shown at their very best. To go a step beyond would not only be dishonest; it would be illegal.

          One day a few years ago I was working on a commercial at a large production studio in Los Angeles. As I left, I noticed a young production assistant at a table, surrounded by boxes of corn flakes and cereal bowls. I asked her what she was doing. She showed me her tweezer, and said she was looking for "beauty flakes". She was plucking out the best-looking unbroken corn flakes and putting them in bowls for the shoot the next day.

           Was that dishonest? I don't think so. Broken corn flakes taste as good as unbroken ones, and nobody buys them for their looks. She was just making them look good on television.

            There was a day when food stylists shellacked cooked turkeys to make them glisten in photographs, but that's not legal any more. Food stylists still want them to glisten, so the home economists use a food recipe to do the job. Nothing fake. You can do the same.

            We all know food products on TV will look their best. Toys will look fun to play with. Should the toy makers tell you that their newest sensation takes an hour to assemble?  On the box, perhaps, but not in the commercial. But we shouldn't show or even imply that it just takes a jiffy. Buyers do have some responsibility here.

            Where is the line? There are laws and regulations about deceptive advertising, with strict punishments,  but it shouldn't come to that. We know right from wrong. I've never knowingly done a deceptive ad, and I've never been asked to. And I can't manipulate anybody into doing anything. All I can do is provide insights and information, and try to show products at their very best.

             That's what advertising people do. And they're proud of it.


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