Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Hard Not To Be Cynical When The World Demands It Of You

Look, everyone knows advertising is bullshit. We know we're not seriously supposed to believe that Bud Light will magically turn women into bikini-clad party girls or that the right pair of shoes will allow us to suddenly be able to dunk a basketball. I would assume most any American alive in this day and age have seen enough ridiculous ads in enough formats to understand they're not exactly honest all the time and that they'll take any angle they can to get us to buy their crap.

But at some certain point we expect some truth out of ads. For example, that's why Sketchers has to pay out $40 million for claiming their idiotic shoes would somehow help you get in shape (and yet they have to pay $0 for ruining any lasting respect we had for Joe Montana, but that's another post for another day). While we all pretty much accept they're going to stretch the truth and present distorted images, we also all clearly agree there has to be some sort of line we draw that says you can't just make shit up.

But that's more or less what advertising is all about, so expecting advertisers not to boldly lie to us is like expecting your dog not to shit in the backyard; it's just what they do. But sometimes the examples of how full of shit the advertisers are just get to be too much.

Take, for example, a recent lawsuit between CBS and ABC. The short version is that ABC is shortly going to première a new reality show called Glass House in which a bunch of strangers live in a house together and do a bunch of stupid shit and maybe one of them gets some money at the end. CBS noticed this is basically exactly what they did with Big Brother (not to mention ABC hired a bunch of ex-Big Brother staff to work on the show) and sued for copyright infringement.

What was ABC's defense? That the show is such a rote and generic reality show that it can't be ripping anything off, because all of these shows are the same thing to begin with anyway. Seriously. Their argument is literally "well, these shows are all the same anyway, so how is one more on the pile make any difference?"

What does this have to do with advertising? Well, I'm guessing "this is nothing original because all these shows are the same anyway" will not be what ABC goes with on its commercials advertising Glass House. Rather, I'd be willing to bet they'll try to convince you there is something new and interesting about this show after all.

It reminds me very much of the recent Pizza Hut v. Papa Johns lawsuit in which the former sued the latter over their use of the slogan "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" essentially challenging Poppa Johns to prove this is true. Papa John's legal defense (as chronicled in a Dominoes commercial for some reason) was that this statement was "puffery" and that no one really believes they mean it. A convenient legal excuse, but it kind of destroys the entire basis of advertising when you effectively say "Oh, when we say 'better,' that's completely meaningless. In fact, any claim we make should just be ignored."

So it may just be me being cynical to say advertising is a completely bullshit profession, but then again, the advertisers themselves seem to admit as much...

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