Did I mention?–advertising is wrong.

The reason is simple: advertisements are lies. They don’t tell the truth. They are misleading. They do not inform you of the actual qualities of the advertised product. Instead, they tout qualities that the product does not have. And the idea is to convince you, based on qualities the product does not have, to buy the product.

So it’s not just lying, it’s fraud. It’s theft, and I think we ought to be asking ourselves why we put up with it.

My favorite advertising slogan is “Coke adds life.” Sounds like a good thing! Who wouldn’t want some extra “life”? But this life that Coke adds is not well defined. And what could it really be? How does a sweet, carbonated beverage add life to anything? The only things Coke can actually add to my day are

  1. carbon dioxide
  2. a taste in my mouth
  3. sugar
  4. caffeine
  5. a container I have to discard or recycle.

Which of these provides the “life”? Only the caffeine has any possibility of enhancing my physiological state, that’s certain. But you can get caffeine in lots of products. Imagine a new campaign for Pepsi: “By the way, Pepsi adds life too–obviously.” I doubt the Coca-Cola people would be understanding about that.

Or imagine calling them and saying, “I want a refund, because contrary to your claims, I haven’t noticed any extra life in my life as a result of drinking Coke.” Would that be a silly gesture?–and if so, why? Hasn’t the company made this specific claim for this specific product? Is it supposed to be OK with us that the claim is unmotivated and completely false? Is it OK with us that practically all ads are completely false? What does that say about us, that people can lie to us all day long and we’ll still do what they suggest? Shouldn’t we stop trusting them?

When I first took up this topic I was more lenient than I am now. “Of course there are some ads that are not outright lies,” I was thinking. “They do tell you something about the product. Take BMW’s ‘the ultimate driving machine.’ Well, it’s actually true that they are kick-ass cars. Maybe we can forgive them a little exaggeration.”

I now think differently. The cars might be wonderful, but they are not any kind of ultimate. The word does not mean kick-ass, wicked, or fabulous. It means the end–that is, the absolute extreme of whatever scale you’re using. You can’t exaggerate “really good” and get “ultimate,” any more than you can exaggerate “sick” and get “dead,” as in Mark Twain’s famous joke. Therefore, to call BMW’s cars “the ultimate” is not an exaggeration, it is simply not fucking true.

Think about almost any ad you’ve seen. They do not tell the truth. They make promises that cannot ever be fulfilled. They are tricks. Instead of giving you the information you need to make intelligent choices, they try to trick you into choosing their stuff. The most reasonable response to such a maneuver is probably to never buy anything from those scam artists, ever again. They should be held responsible for their lack of scruples.

Advertising is the second most evil industry ever invented. When you think about advertising, if you don’t feel like screaming, you’re not doing it right.

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