Embellishment is a penalty in hockey. What about in advertising?

While watching the NHL playoffs (Go Rangers!!), I have to chuckle when a sport that allows fighting sends a player to the penalty box for embellishment. That’s right. Embellishment. No, I’m not embellishing. That’s what the penalty for bad acting is called. Players aren’t allowed to take a dive to make it seem like they’ve been tripped or hit in the face with a stick. Hockey may be brutal but it still values honesty and integrity.

NHL ref

I wish advertising were as strict. Of course there are times when a brand gets penalized for deceptive advertising. But not enough. Maybe that’s why we ad folk are often lumped with lawyers and used car salesmen as the least trustworthy professionals.

As a practitioner of persuasion, I look for the most compelling and creative way to make an argument on behalf of a brand. However there is a line I will not cross. The truth. I’ve never worked at McCann but I’m a big believer in their motto “Truth Well Told.”

Truth in advertising shouldn’t be the exception. In fact I don’t think it is. But I do have a big problem with deceptive ads. When I see half a TV screen filled with tiny text for two seconds pretending to be a legal disclaimer, I call shenanigans. I’ve made many commercials and often have to include “legal.”

So how do these advertisers get away with this? The ads in question are often for schlocky car dealerships or sketchy lenders. Are the networks who run these ads just glad to sell their inventory and willing to look the other way?

My clients have always been on the up and up and insist we make the type large enough (measured by scan lines) with enough screen time to read it. Whenever the aesthetic integrity of the commercial is in question, I offer edits so that we can accommodate the lawyers and my art director eye. Whenever a client asks to include a claim that requires a lot of disclaimer, I try to dissuade them. Why give the audience any reason to doubt you? More often than not, the clients take my advice.

It’s sad that I’m an ad guy who goes into a car dealership believing that the price I saw advertised is pretty much false. If I read it really, really, carefully (while squinting) the tiny type MAY inform me that I can indeed have that low monthly price IF I put down a ton of money AND I’m a recent college grad who is ALSO in the military AND a repeat customer who DOESN’T need to drive more than 10,000 miles per year AND doesn’t mind a standard transmission in the ONE vehicle that MAY be in stock in a color that doesn’t appeal to me.

Hey I’m all for rewarding loyal customers, recent college grads and especially our military. And I  also understand the need for the dealer to incentivize left over stock. But just say that up front. Don’t bury it to lure me in. Because when I show up, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.

Don’t believe what you can’t read. People should make it their goal to check the facts before buying anything.

Please note I used the words “goal” and “check” in that last sentence in a lame attempt to somehow bring this back to hockey. True statement.

– Rob Schnapp