Lies in Advertising

There is a commercial from some hack PR group that claims that you can trust everything you see in commercials, because by law they can’t lie. Yet you may have noticed that every day, almost every commercial on your TV lies to you blatantly and outrageously. How can this be, if lying is against the law? What they are trying not to say is that commercials are not considered lies if you accept certain basic premises, which are themelves lies, the same premises in fact which underlie the whole of the modern economy. They include the following:

You stink: Literally, in the sense that your natural odour is inherently offensive, and that you are obliged to do anything in your power to either eliminate it altogether or cover it up with something deemed socially acceptable, in this case fake floral chemical shit. We have been convinced that for the past million years we have hated ourselves and our cavemates, waiting in eager anticipation for the day when we could be free of our own stink. Sweat is not dirt, people! And this extends to our entire environment. As soon as dinner is over, any lingering vestige of it must be immediately banished by same floral spray. As cleaning products have eliminated visible stains, the toilet bowl must now be purged of invisible ones, only viewable under the ultraviolet light your guests are undoubtedly using at this moment to confirm your total dedication to cleanliness.

You suck: In a wider sense, nothing you can do, be or have is ever good enough, except in the brief moment between spending all your money on it and getting more money. You must always strive, compete, leave your fellows behind in the dust. It will be painful, you will feel the burn, but instead of resting your aching and abused muscles, you must take a Tylenol and continue.

Other lies: Taste is more important than nutrition. Appearance is more important than reality – this applies to all senses including taste, smell and feeling

The universe revolves around you, and only exists to fulfil your every desire (as long as your desires are appropriate; i.e., make someone some money). You have the right to accumulate as much money as you can, by whatever legal means you can employ, and spend that money on anything legal that you might have a craving for, whatever the consequences to your own mental or physical health, the society you live in, or the natural environment.

Note that these rights are also obligations. The logic of capitalism demands that one must always keep buying stuff even when one can’t afford it, or the whole system will collapse (look up Ponzi Scheme). This is because the economy has to grow by at least as much as is necessary to pay the interest on all outstanding debts. Defaulting means the beginning of a spiral of destruction which will bring it all down. But not defaulting means borrowing more and more. More and more what? The money you borrow didn’t exist before the loan officer magically increased one of the numbers attached to to your bank account by $20,000. But now you have to pay it back by going out and producing something, or sell your body to someone else so they can produce something, using up a little more of the environment every time. Easy credit implies for many people ‘buy now, pay never’. ‘Do not pay until 2012’? Hey, I may win the lottery, and isn’t the world supposed to end by then anyway? Better to indulge now and fuck the rest.

Children do not like, and can never like, vegetables, as long as they know they are vegetables. It is therefore acceptable to deceive them with things that don’t taste like vegetables but have some kind of nutritional value.

Any amount of something good outweighs all the bad. Some crap food has some calcium in it so you should give it to kids. What kind of calcium is it? How much is there and what is its actual benefit? An ad for Froot Loops says it has 3 grams of fibre per serving and is therefore good to feed your kids, who need 20 per day or more. So it provides negligible benefit, along with this (note the first ingredient, which accounts for over 40% of the same serving):

SUGAR; WHOLE GRAIN CORN FLOUR; WHEAT FLOUR; WHOLE GRAIN OAT FLOUR; OAT FIBER; SOLUBLE CORN FIBER; PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (ONE OR MORE OF: COCONUT, SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OILS)†; SALT; SODIUM ASCORBATE AND ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C); NIACINAMIDE; REDUCED IRON; NATURAL ORANGE, LEMON, CHERRY, RASPBERRY, BLUEBERRY, LIME AND OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS; RED #40; BLUE #2; TURMERIC COLOR; YELLOW #6; ZINC OXIDE; ANNATTO COLOR; BLUE #1; PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6); RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2); THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1); VITAMIN A PALMITATE; BHT (PRESERVATIVE); FOLIC ACID; VITAMIN D; VITAMIN B12.

Like any addictive drug, the law of diminishing returns requires more and more of the active ingredient per fix, so portions get bigger as benefits disappear altogether.

The new green consciousness has produced this wonderful lie: This product will save the planet. For example, a cellphone company offers as a selling point that each of its products contains some plastic from a recycled water bottle. You can therefore feel virtuous and environmentally responsible, and even be able to justify buying a bottle of water because you know it will be put to good use. Note that saving the environment is only acceptable as long as it is compatible with economic growth and an ever-increasing standard of living. Sacrifice is not a word one hears often in this context.

Traditionally, guilt is supposed to be felt if you do something that is harmful to others, or to society as a whole. In the world of advertising, you are only expected to feel guilty if you do something harmful to yourself. For example, if you eat something with high fat content, you may feel guilty, but the guilt may be atoned for by eating something lo- or no-fat. Even so, just as many cases we are encouraged to indulge ourselves, guilt-free, in something which tastes great but is obviously unhealthy, again presumably on the grounds that the very short-term beneficial psychological effects outweigh the harmful long-term ones.

Does anyone fall for this crap? Obviously they do, or the companies wouldn’t keep doing it. The Soviet Union fell because its rulers did not understand human nature. They wanted to change people into their own vision of what people should be, and the people just refused to play along. They practised passive resistance, didn’t bother working and eventually it all fell apart. But our rulers understand us very well, and don’t want us to change a bit. They know that yes, we are indeed genetically programmed to fall for this crap. For example, we are made to worry constantly what others think of us, so the advertisers invent a story in which everyone loathes their own and everyone else’s natural scent, and offer a solution which profits them and makes everyone else’s insecurity even worse.

Why do we desire things that are so counter to our real needs anyway? Whichever process you believe moulded us (I believe it was natural selection myself, but some go for a conscious creator) had a serious flaw. Many of the characteristics that made our species invincible in the wild become downright detrimental when applied to the totally unnatural environment we have created for ourselves. Our ancestors, like us, needed exercise, but got it every day by necessity in the hunt for food. The urge therefore is not for activity but inactivity, of stuffing oneself with fat and sugar as often as possible to serve as a reserve until the next mammoth kill, which could be in a month’s time, then to lie back in a gorged stupor and relax from the strenuous activities of the day. And so the biggest urge now is to gorge on fake food and sprawl back watching the tube spur you on to greater and greater gluttony, sucking up the world’s resources and slapping them right on your belly. And that’s no lie.

Got more lies? Post them below!

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