Monday, October 02, 2006

Truth in PR vs. Advertising

I love my friends in the ad business. I have a lot of them and I will always be a bit envious of the creative advantage they have when working with their client’s products and brands. I sometimes wish that we in the PR biz had as much creative license in pitching product stories to the media as that which our advertising contemporaries enjoy. ‘Cause when it comes right down to it, PR shops are a lot more tied to truthfulness than our advertising buddies.

Ours is an age of transparency. Sarbanes-Oxley and full-disclosure dictate that PR is intrinsically tied to “true story telling.” Legislation notwithstanding, any PR practitioner who thinks they can slip one past any discriminating journalists’ B.S. detector not only does themselves a disservice but their shortsighted pursuit of ink inevitably puts a client’s brand at risk. It’s true that embellishment is the essence of good story telling but PR requires a balance of knowing what journalists’ want and a creative yet honest presentation of facts.

It’s too bad some current ad campaigns don’t follow the same PR rules.

A few recent ads support my point beautifully. They are illustrations of where advertising truths enter a grey area and creative expression takes the wheel. To make things more interesting for readers, I’ve highlighted a few examples of questionable ads and took the liberty of accompanying each one with what I believe the press release headline might have been had PR been given that much creative freedom.

Let’s start with the new Wal-Mart ads gracing billboards all over the city. You know the ones - a beautiful, lanky, blonde female model, lying down and sporting the new fashion line called “George.” Are we to believe that she’s the typical Wal-Mart shopper? Puh – leaze! No one who shops at Wal-Mart looks like her! Have you been to a Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon? Before I walk into a Wal-Mart, I make sure I put on my combat boots and sweats because I know that trying to navigate the store to the check-out counter is a full-contact game of survivor. So, can anyone say with a straight face that the women’s apparel section at Wal-Mart is where you’re likely to rub elbows with trend-seeking, model-like blondes? If you happen to see one, quickly snap a picture because no one will believe you. It’s nothing short of spotting the Loch Ness monster. Truth in that ad ‘by George’ I think not.

Press Release Headline: “Forget Prada, Gucci and DKNY - The new look for the season is George! Holt Renfrew quaking in their stilettos over new George fashions at Wal-Mart.”

Then we have over-the-top tampon commercials (sorry male readers, but I can’t resist). These ones kill me. Why are all these women dancing during their periods!!! Is this normal? Who are these women? Well, you’ll know when I have mine; I’m meaner than a snake and pudgier than a blowfish. I can quite confidently say that when it’s that time of month, the last thing women want to do is kick up our heels and go do the Cha Cha. Reality danced itself straight out of the building with that ad.

Press Release Headline: “Crampy? Bloated? Feel like kicking the dog? Not too worry. New tampons so sleek and comfortable they will make your feet feel like dancing!”

Lastly, (and this is the ad that causes me to completely lose it every time I see it) is the spot for a hair strengthening shampoo called Garnier Fructis, Long and Strong. The tall tale features a woman with a beautiful long mane whose locks for some reason are tied on to an iron pipe (search me?). Instead of unknotting herself from this unfortunate predicament, she rips the pipe loose with her own hair! “Wow, she has super human strength Batman. I’d watch out for her!” Now, how is it possible to give strength to something that’s little more than dead keratin cells? How does hair get so strong it can break metal? Where is the truth in that? I’ve been using the product for three months and I still get a mitt full of hair in my brush everyday. Truth in this ad has gone down the drain!

Press Release Headline: “Now you too can have hair buns of steel! New shampoo so strong you must register your hair with the weapons department.”

Advertising’s job is to creatively showcase the attributes of otherwise mundane products and for that, dramatization is necessary. After all, who’s going to buy a pair of women’s Wal-Mart pants that “might not make your butt look big”? I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all learned to take ads with a grain of salt but where is the line drawn?

If for no other reason than to be able to look my daughter in the eyes, I think I’ll stick to the PR business, thanks.


Dave Jones said...

Preach on, sister! It really doesn't do the industry any good when PR folks back up the advertising's creative license/aspirational imagery.

I mean, does anyone really believe that various and sundry movie/tv stars use drug-store hair dyes? Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Hilary Duff don't wear the clothes with their names on them sold at the various crap-mart's of the world, but my daughter covets the stuff.

MezzoDiva said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MezzoDiva said...

Thank you for blowing the whistle on these completely ridiculous advertisements! These ads aren't only dishonest, they're verging on parody. I don't know any woman past puberty who wants to dance until dawn, ride horses on the beach, or (god forbid) piggy-back on anyone's shoulders (all in white pants, no less) when she's hormonally challenged, no matter what tampon or OTC remedy she's got. And that shampoo commercial...! I have a very full and healthy head of hair, but my follicles hurt whenever that comes on. Do the ad agencies and their clients genuinely believe that this kind of blatant absurdity makes their product more appealing? I don't get it.