Truth in Advertising – Gone, But Not Forgotten

Truth in Advertising – Gone, But Not Forgotten

Money has been termed the root of all evil, yet society cannot run without it. For many individuals, wealth is the key not only to success, but the fulfillment of dreams. Major life decisions are commonly made based on the status of an individual’s bank account. For businesses, wealth is generally achieved through publicity – the report of a company’s quality, service, and value goes far towards either ensuring the company’s success or terminating it if the report is not favorable. Formerly, word of mouth was the prime method of achieving publicity, but technology has afforded a more controlled method of spreading the word – advertising. Advertising can be seen on television, billboards, even on individuals in the form of clothing or tattoos, etc. Commercial ads utilize various methods to appeal to the public. Teams are built to analyze public opinions and determine who the ads should target and how to gain the public’s interest and create a desire for the product being offered. Due to outrageous and ultimately false claims throughout the history of advertising, laws have been written and agencies created for the purpose of restricting the claims made by producers, etc. Despite the rules protecting the public from false advertising, the truth is often perverted to satisfy the desires of consumers. Advertisers commonly use deception in the form of fantastical circumstances, intentional fallacies, and unsubstantiated implications to sway consumers.

Reality is Overrated
Life, as we all know, is composed of a series of events that color and shape our lives and who we ultimately become. It has often been said that improvements are rarely achieved through success, but rather through mistakes and the ability to learn from them. Likewise are we changed less through moments of happiness and levity than through the more effective methods of pain, loss, and hardship. However positive the outcome of such troubles might be, the moments themselves are still quite painful and often hard to endure. For that reason, humanity tends to spend a fair amount of time striving to escape reality. Science fiction and fantasy books and films are becoming increasingly popular. Fiction in general seems to be preferable to history for the majority of the public. This concept has been cleverly utilized in advertising in such a way that the truth appears to be upheld although no semblance of reality remains intact. Advertisers play on the societal desire to escape reality as a marketing tool, transporting viewers, readers, and the like to realms of peace, pleasure, and the utter absence of daily struggles and stress.

Coca-Cola capitalizes on this concept, creating worlds of pure imagination for its consumers. In “Fairytale in a vending machine”, fantastical creatures transport a bottle of Coca-Cola through a bizarre, twisted, and ever-changing world akin to Wonderland (Mueller&Matulick, 2006). In “Heist”, insects of various types band together to steal a bottle of Coca-Cola from a sleeping picnicker (Dick Clark Productions, Inc., 2009). “The Organ Player” shows a man using Coca-Cola to entice creatures similar to Gremlins to sing and play instruments out of a special organ (Dougal Wilson Advertising Agency, 2009). “Sleepwalker” shows a man sleepwalking through the African jungle, encountering various forms of wildlife, crossing a river, and narrowly avoiding a fall off of a cliff to bring back a bottle of Coca-Cola, all the while apparently unconscious (Davis, 2010). Even video games are not free from Coca-Cola’s exploitation. One commercial transforms the main character of one of the Grand Theft Auto editions from a violent, angry individual into a caring, helpful citizen after one drink of their flavorful beverage (Smith and Foulkes, 2006). Throughout all of these commercials, the only semblance of reality is the beverage itself and the implication that it has a pleasant flavor.

Coca-Cola, like many other well-known carbonated beverages, has its own following. Coca-Cola fans have been around for ages, so there is certainly no need to familiarize the nation with the product. Having made its debut in Atlanta, GA in 1886, Coca-Cola has established itself as an icon in the United States, much like Mickey Mouse, and its memorabilia can be found in stores nationwide, and even in pawn shops (Coca-Cola, 2011). The polar bear is a well-known symbol of Coca-Cola and is as familiar to society as the Energizer bunny. Coca-Cola vending machines can be seen all over the country. Therefore, it likely seems odd that they spend so much money on various forms of advertising. Coca-Cola advertisements span all forms of media and are generally of such high quality that they are watched for recreational purposes as well as business interest. However, there are practical purposes to spending a relative fortune on advertising, even for a business giant. The hardest part about the top isn’t getting there – it’s staying there. Businesses need to continually advertise to maintain recognition and to hopefully interest consumers that have not previously considered their product, as well as to prevent the loss of existing customers to cleverly marketed competitors.

With all advertising campaigns, the first consideration is the target audience – what group of individuals is most likely to purchase the product. There would be no real purpose in trying to appeal to more mature audiences to convince them to drink Coca-Cola as such individuals would have been exposed to Coca-Cola all their lives and are little likely to start drinking the soda if they are not drinking it currently. Therefore the corporation’s target audience would be individuals in their twenties and possibly thirties; those who are often still indecisive or unsure about their tastes and are more likely to switch favorite beverages or try something different. For example, my husband and I are both in our early- to mid-thirties. I have a tendency to change my favorite soda regularly, favoring Dr. Pepper for a time and then craving Coca-Cola or possibly Crush a while later. My husband has recently found he prefers Dr. Pepper over Coca-Cola, which he had long considered his favorite beverage. On the other hand, my husband’s aunt who is in her sixties prefers Diet Pepsi to other beverages and has for as long as I’ve known her. On the rare occasion when Diet Pepsi was not available, she would drink Diet Coke or something else similar, yet has never considered changing her favorite beverage. Although some younger or older individuals could still be swayed to drinking Coca-Cola, those in their twenties and thirties offer the highest probability of change, thus Coca-Cola commercials are designed to appeal to younger adults above other audiences. Granted, the corporation would not want to offend more mature audiences, since a large portion of their sales are made to long-time fans of the beverage, ergo their commercials maintain a dignity and character that continues to appeal to their existing consumers. They also use pleasant music and high quality video and imaging to make their commercials appealing on a general level, which is why they are enjoyed recreationally and discussed in casual conversation.

The effect of their efforts on consumers is unquestionable, as they continue to maintain record sales despite the fact that Coca-Cola products are generally higher priced than other carbonated beverages that were previously considered to be equal to Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola primarily uses pathos to incite peaceful and pleasant emotions in consumers. The implication of the Coca-Cola ads is that drinking Coca-Cola is so pleasant an experience that it can cause the drinker to behave in an uncommonly pleasant manner and possibly transport their consciousness to an alternate and fantastical reality. Of course, drinking Coca-Cola will not cause any dramatic change in a person’s behavior. Therefore, Coca-Cola utilizes intentional fallacies to entice consumers into purchasing their product. Such deceptive advertising is likely considered permissible due to its extreme variation from reality. Consumers should be able to recognize that the situations displayed in the commercials are nonsensical and are merely representative of a mental state. Yet even that representation is false, since drinking a beverage is not guaranteed to do more than quench thirst, and only temporarily at that. The former requirements of truth in advertising have been dissected to enable creativity, allowing artists to completely avoid the truth so long as their avoidance is unquestionable.

Dueling Deceptions
Such absence of truth is abundant in advertising. A trio of heavily armed ducks takes revenge on duck hunters in a beer commercial (Woodpecker, 1993), a horde of women come running and swimming from miles around in eager response to a men’s deodorant (Axe, 2006), and yet another commercial portrays campers playing a prank on a sasquatch who retaliates with an enflamed response (Jack Link’s, 2010). Commercials commonly twist reality in such a way that is thoroughly unrealistic or use pure fantasy to convey a real message, thereby using intentional fallacies to attract consumers.
Geico Insurance Company uses existing phrases and approved concepts and portrays them in such a way that is obviously untrue and yet upholds them as true in their commercials, comparing the accuracy of their claim that customers can save money by switching to their company to the proposed accuracy of the phrases or concepts portrayed by their commercials. The purpose of these commercials is clearly intended to be comical and attract viewers through humor while instilling the idea that they could profit by switching to their insurance company. For instance, one of their more familiar commercials uses the old children’s game of making a baby laugh by playing with their toes and singing a tune involving the activities of swine. The announcer on the commercial asks the question of whether the company can really save the viewer 15% or more on their insurance, then follows with the question of, “Did the little piggy cry, ‘Whee, whee, whee!’ all the way home”. Then an adorable pink swine is seen holding pinwheels and leaning out of the rear passenger side of an SUV hollering, “Whee! Whee, whee, whee!” much to the chagrin of the young boy and his mother in the vehicle (Kiser, 2010). Another clever fallacy-oriented commercial from Geico follows the series of commercials involving a caveman. The commercials state that Geico is “so easy, a caveman could do it.” The caveman is often seen taking offense to this claim of general ignorance on the part of his species, yet in this particular commercial, the caveman is not aware of the voiceover’s insult to his intelligence as he arrives late to depart on a crab boat (with the crew of a popular television program entitled Deadliest Catch) carrying excessive luggage and anticipating luxurious circumstances that are far removed from such an existence. The voice then states that, “Not everyone can make it on a crab boat, but everyone could save money with Geico. It’s so easy, even he can do it (DCP Productions, 2010).” Both of these commercials rely on fallacies to make real points, using humor to attract the viewers and gain their interest.

In fact, some discussions have been publicized concerning the use of fallacies in Geico’s commercials. In one such discussion, the question is asked what type of fallacy the commercial employs (Dwight, 2011). An article on discusses the effect of Geico’s Piggy commercial on the general, civilized public, citing the commercial as stupid, silly, seemingly unrelated to auto insurance, yet humorous and effective nonetheless. The article further reports Geico as the first company that occurs to most people when hearing auto insurance not due to the strength of their coverage, but rather the absurdity of their commercials (McKee, 2010).

But Geico is certainly not alone in using fallacies to attract business. Farmers Insurance exaggerates the truth in various commercials in an attempt to create the perception that their insurance agents are especially informed, knowledgeable, and caring. One commercial shows agents supposedly taking part in a training session at the University of Farmers. The group of trainees watches slides as the trainer asks for personal information on each of the clients appearing on the screen. With each slide, one of the trainees states the client’s name and some personal detail about them, such as a hobby, etc. (Farmers Insurance, 2011). No matter how caring an individual representative might be, it is inconceivable that Farmers Insurance agents are so fully involved with their clients as to be able to recognize each one on sight and list personal details about each client. The audience should clearly recognize that the commercial is an exaggeration, but the implication that Farmers Insurance agents are more caring than agents at other insurance companies is still clear. Therefore, the intentional fallacy concerning the level of caring of Farmers Insurance agents is used to suggest a more realistic, and yet superior, level of concern.

Since both Geico and Farmers Insurance are suggesting to the viewers that they would receive either better value or better service by switching to their company, they are clearly targeting individuals with existing insurance elsewhere. Some of the elements of the commercials might be geared more towards middle-aged audiences, yet the playfulness and humor is sufficient to appeal to adults in general, thereby not excluding any possible customers. Their approach seems to be effective, based on the article referenced above on and the general popularity of both insurance companies. Due to the time required to receive a quote, consumers are not likely to search beyond the first few companies called when shopping for insurance. Therefore, simply by making themselves known and in a positive light, both Geico and Farmers Insurance are certain to attract consumers. By making specific implications, such as Farmers Insurance claiming that their agents are more caring, they might be able to compete against a somewhat lower quote from a competitor if, for example, the consumer has had poor experiences with detached agents in the past. In both circumstances, the commercials employ logos, albeit using false logic, and a degree of pathos, appealing to the customers’ emotion through humor, implied concern, etc. While none of the commercials referenced specifically target a certain competitor, each makes a claim that suggests they are better than their competitors in a certain area. While Farmers Insurance addresses the concern of the agents for their clients, Geico addresses the time needed to obtain a quote and the ease of obtaining a quote, as well as the value to the consumer in switching to Geico from a higher priced agency.

All of the companies analyzed have chosen to use fallacies to attract consumers to their product, either through exaggeration of implied characteristics or pure fantasy and/or absurdity. Although the techniques employed do not violate any legal specifications, the fact remains that dishonesty is the key factor. However innocent these humorous absurdities, etc. may be, they pave the way for future falsehoods that could result in greater costs to the consumers and overall dissatisfaction and distrust. There is nothing wrong with having a laugh. In fact, laughter has been documented as a very healthy and highly recommended practice. The only recommendation I would make is to be careful the distance travelled to obtain a laugh and ensure that the laughter is not succeeded by tears.

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