Category Archives: truth in advertising

A fake walk across America

This is brilliant. And it also distorts the truth. This video professes to show a guy walking across America, strutting handsomely, in changing T-shirts but the same pair of jeans. Except the guy is a model, he didn’t really walk all the way across, and the images are a carefully staged compilation of 2,770 still photos shot between van trips — still a lot of work, but not a yearlong foot journey. The last shot shows him crossing off “walk across America” on his bucket list, with a closeup of the Levi’s back pocket. Guess what? Adweek editor Brian Morrissey says it was all sponsored by Levi’s.

So, is this cool? It’s free, after all. No one is hurt by the implied promise of a true story. Yet if we all know traditional advertising is fake, which is why we’re rushing to social media to find fresher, grittier, more realistic content, do we really want to find manipulated material there as well? It’s lovely art direction, Levi’s. But is seeding the Internet with fake virals about arduous adventures with no disclosure, well, really building brand loyalty?

P.S., if you want to see real truth, Christoph Rehage walked 4,646 kilometers across China. We can almost hear the Levi’s agency pitch meeting: Dudes, remember that crazy guy who hiked across Asia? We’ll film it in a month, except with your jeans. And our guy will have better hair.

We’ll get you, Lipitor, and your little dog too

Which would you rather buy:

1. An overweight, metal-bound, inefficient internal combustion engine that pollutes the very air you breathe?
2. A BMW, the ultimate driving machine?

Consumers demand a bit of spin, which is why we think the hue and cry over Dr. Robert Jarvik is off base. Some critics claim that the Pfizer campaign, which pushes the $12.7 billion drug Lipitor, stretches Jarvik’s cred too far: while he did invent the artificial heart, they say he’s not licensed to practice medicine. And he doesn’t row one-man sculls across pristine mountain lakes (seems one spot used a body double).

If Pfizer stretched things a wee bit, it’s because consumers need it. People don’t want lies, but they do seek value, and actually require colorful data to make informed choices about the future. A recent study by California Institute of Technology and Stanford found consumers will like wine better if they are told it comes from a $90 bottle vs. a $10 bottle.

Play this forward, and you’ll see marketers must make claims if they want to compete among consumers. People chase brands and medical experts because we’re all trying to anticipate pleasure. Like cavemen and women lining up for spring procreation, we size up opportunities based on how good we think they’ll make us feel. Humans probably survived evolution based on information that predicted outcome; ancient mothers said don’t eat the poisonous berries, and our ancestors didn’t. Coloring the story is the only way to capture attention, because our history demands it.

A pill that slashes cholesterol by 39% to 60% is nice. But a hip boomer who put a robot in peoples’ chests, soars across mountain lakes, and tosses sticks to a cute dog that may or may not be his — man, now we know we’re gonna feel good.

Citigroup’s untruths in advertising

Something has been bothering us about Citigroup’s rebranding campaign this year: It’s just too good to be true. Back in May, Publicis reworked Citi’s red-arch logo into an international “Let’s Get It Done” concept — with Citi connecting consumers to the financial possibilities of college, career, or travel. The campaign began sweetly, such as this UK spot showing a little kid aspiring to business.

But recently Citi’s campaign has developed a whiff of BS. Print ads in the states show a dog hugging a stuffed animal (Citi helped a desperate homeowner appease a lonely pet), an attractive model who turned her kitchen into a shoe closet (the art design is flawless, beautiful clothes and shoes on shelves over a little stove), and a mom who cooks a tofu turkey for a vegetarian daughter-in-law (again, perfect photography, with the sweet ending sentiment that mom saved a little real turkey for the hubby).

So what’s our problem? These are wonderful, compelling tales. But they lie. They insinuate clearly they are real stories, but nowhere do the ads disclose that they are either truth or fiction. The creative is so over-the-top with art production and cinematography that these actors and models can’t possibly be the real deal. Here’s a young man who uses Citi to surprise mom with a suit for the holidays. Here’s a father and son who travel to Norway, research their family history … and discover they are Swedish. So clever. We bet.

Look, Citi, we understand that your creative team is telling you this is all OK, that these are idealistic narratives that don’t state anywhere they are true. We’re sure the copywriters are typing away at new sweet nothings to share with the public. But when you show a photo of a model and say “My name is Sue” and then “I did this,” you’re telling us the woman in the photo is really Sue and she really did this. And if she didn’t, that’s wrong.

Maybe somewhere there’s a woman who turned her kitchen into a shoe closet — but we bet she doesn’t look a thing like the beautiful model now appearing in The New Yorker. Citi, give us pure fiction or give us pure reality. Let’s get it done.