Now, there’s food for a weekend worth of thought. Good food? Bad food? You decide.
But how about this?
There’s nothing true or false, but advertising makes it so. (Kathleen Eagle. As far as I know.)
A headline on p. A4 of the July 23 Strib continues to bug me enough to bring it forth for your consideration: “Should TV ads for losing weight have to tell the truth?” Wow. Truth in advertising. I thought we’d settled that. But apparently not. The article explains that the FTC recently warned the Senate that weight-loss ads are often misleading and harmful to consumers, and that, yes, there are rules, but the agency has trouble enforcing them because there’s no money for it. The response from a representative of the weight-loss industry basically amounted to: Truth is relative.
I just thought I’d bring this up because we’re people to whom words matter, and we’re interested in the way language is used. We Riders write fiction, and we joke about making a by living telling lies all day. But that’s not at all what we do. There are other professionals who use words that way, and they make a better living misrepresenting, misleading, misquoting, misstating and otherwise lying than I do writing fiction containing none of the aforementioned distortions. Honestly.
Advertising is small potatoes. The real artistry is in PR. I ran across a book review recently called The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations by Larry Tye. Don’t glaze over, eyes. I doubt if I’ll get around to reading the book, but I had no idea there was actually a “father of spin.” I thought the Devil spawned it and it just twirled through the cable channels like Topsy.
This is Edward in about 1920. He was Freud’s nephew. He sold America on ideas, movements, all kinds of products, even ballet. He had a client list including some of the biggest movers and shakers in the 20th century (died in 1995 at the age of 103) and basically wrote the book on marketing strategy. He was all about manipulating public opinion, said it was the essence of democracy, the invisible government. Check out this man’s story in Wikipedia. It’s fascinating. And he wasn’t the Devil–wasn’t even Machiavelli. He simply understood herd mentality and the fact that, no matter how smart we are individually, any of us can find herself running with the lemmings. He told marketers how to use language and his insights into human nature to sell anything. He came up with the idea of using 3rd party authorities–group leaders–to endorse a product or an idea. He originated the “tie-in.” But he warned that a public relations counsel “must never accept a retainer or assume a position that puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society.” Wow again. What a concept. I imagine him standing beside the barn doors he’d opened and watching the horses run away. A smart man like Edward, he knew better than to close the doors. What do you do? Take the doors off and hope some of the critters will come back on their own? (We write character-driven stories, and we think about these things.)
Now, I do not demean PR folks. In the final years of his military career, Daddy was Base Informations Officer, which was basically the PR man for the Air Force Base where he was last stationed. His job was to sell the Base to the local community. Not literally, of course, but civilians don’t always support the troops in their own back yard. Daddy was an officer, a gentleman, and a diplomat. He was also a stickler for good grammar and precise word choice.
Speaking of tie-in, you may remember that I’m a “Mad Men” fan, and Season 3 is due to start soon, so if you’re behind, you might want to rent 1 and 2. It’s an AMC series, widely available on cable, and it’s about the heyday of Madison Avenue and male chauvinism–late 50’s, early 60’s. Did I mention Jon Hamm? Yummy.
What is truth in advertising? What about other forms of media–journalism, talk, editorials, infotainment–what, if anything, do they owe the society they serve? Or do they/should they serve? What kinds of commercials drive you batty? Which ones sell you? Who do you believe?
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley