Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It’s waaaay better than the truth. It’s advertising.

A couple of months ago I noticed a sign displayed outside of a diner around the corner from my apartment advertising “healthy breakfasts” alongside a picture of typical diner breakfast food: bacon, eggs, sausage, waffles, etc. It made me chuckle—a hearty breakfast maybe, but a healthy breakfast? I don’t think so. And who goes to a diner for a healthy breakfast anyway? Big breakfasts are all about indulging—for me it’s usually to top off or recover from a night out. The “Open 24 Hours” sign was what converted me from neighbor to customer.

The banner’s tagline seemed like a bad idea to me (and maybe the owner as well—it wasn’t there when I looked for it today) until I started noticing similar, i.e. blatantly false messaging in larger, more sophisticated campaigns, like the Wendy’s commercial below:

“It’s waaaay better than fast food. It’s Wendy’s.” Huh? But Wendy’s IS fast food… isn’t it? In fact, it’s the third-largest hamburger fast food chain, according to Wikipedia. And I’m actually a tad concerned that their burgers are never frozen—I don’t think they’re slaughtering cows back there in the kitchen—how sanitary is it that the meat they’re using isn’t frozen while it’s in transport from wherever it’s coming from? When I buy chicken breasts at the grocery store, they go straight into my freezer when I get home. Wobbly raw meat creeps me out.

And then there’s the Botox commercial that employs the catchy jingle “Express yourself!” What? Isn’t the whole point of Botox to paralyze, with toxin injections, the muscles that create lines and wrinkles on your face—the same muscles that EXPRESS EMOTIONS? Isn’t the entertainment value of watching slick foreheaded, expressionless soap stars struggle through crying scenes the silver lining of our youth-obsessed culture?

I couldn’t find the ad on YouTube, but botoxcosmetic.com is almost as ridiculous:

The main text on the right reads: “It’s all about freedom of expression...” Does the ellipsis serve as acknowledgement of the absurdity of this campaign? I like to use ellipses to punctuate ridiculous things I write—well, to punctuate pretty much everything I write…

I suppose the “Will I be able to make facial expressions? Find out more.” link is supposed to ease fears consumers might have about Botox, something a sub-page of a company’s Web site is great for… but it’s odd that Allergan (maker of Botox) would actually highlight this negative effect/connotation of its product in its marketing efforts (and the link only provides more vague, contradictory information). Users can see the product’s effect for themselves in a Before & After Gallery, which for me pretty much just affirmed the assumptions I had already made about Botox. The Befores show more expression and more wrinkles, and the Afters show less expression and less wrinkles. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

But the madness doesn’t stop there! Apparently the League of Women Voters and Allergan have teamed up “to encourage women to express themselves through the political process and by making choices about how they live.” Well that’s super. I thought the gobs of time and money I spend worrying about my appearance were distracting me from more important issues like sexism and empowerment, but apparently succumbing to oppressive beauty ideals IS empowering! Thanks, Allergan!

Either the brains behind these campaigns were experiencing some sort of corporate meltdown (a condition I’m familiar with), or perhaps their line of thought was that consumers have developed a resistance to the usual flowery, misleading advertising language, so they are trying something new by just throwing ridiculously false messaging out there—replacing puffery with absurdity. And maybe it’s a brilliant strategy … it certainly got my attention.

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