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How 'Real' Must Advertising Be?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Is there a place where it is okay that "truth" doesn't reign supreme?

Consumers claim that they want truth in advertising. They claim that they want transparency with brands. People claim that they do not want to be sold to. Consumers claim they want the "real" deal.


We are not pushing a position for deceptive advertising, not by any means. But we are fascinated as to where this trend of refusing the exaggerated portrayals of regular life became the popular thing to do. Why is an overly positive or beautiful version of daily life considered repulsive? Since when did humor about opposites and the margins of society turn into a type of political incorrectness that will offend the masses?

For example, DirecTV has been getting heat for its Rob Lowe commercials. It received so much flack that it pulled its commercials and switched to some supermodel. The reason DirecTV got flack was due to the "opposite" characters Rob Lowe did to show the distinction between people who had satellite versus those who had cable.

Advocacy groups for the "opposite" parties filed complaints.

Oh, boo-hoo.

When our society is no longer able to either take a joke or not take things so darn seriously, creativity suffers. Yes — DirecTV went from following different archetypes to just hiring a supermodel. Is that the change we want?

Another thing we've seen has been in the fashion and beauty industry. Recently there was a huge crackdown all over the globe about photoshopping and the hiring of unhealthy and super-skinny models. 

Are we saying that it's a bad thing? Absolutely not. But we also believe that there is nothing wrong with hiring and promoting a naturally beautiful, healthy model either. This trend of celebrating the "normal" and imperfect, though nice and uplifting on the surface, leaves no real positive action beyond being able to tell oneself that it is good to be comfortable in one's skin. We get the message, but why not encourage people, men and women alike, to strive to improve themselves; to refuse to be complacent? Is that so bad? 

Social science tells us that consumers hate the unknown, so if we encourage stepping out of comfort zones, we may lose an otherwise positive engagement. Perhaps the suggestion above is bad in that respect.

From all the research, articles, talks, white papers, podcasts, and videos, not to mention professional experience, we have come to a couple of critical points when it comes to influencing an audience (we say critical points and not best practices because, again, markets are subjective). First, no advertising can make a bad product good. Product development is key. Second, if the advertising doesn't tell the consumer what's in it for them, it's a lost cause. The consumer is selfish; feed them what they want to know. Third, as humans, we love stories; we do. Wrap the consumer up in a compelling story, and they will remember the product.

Now, where in those three points are "truth" and "reality"? Exactly. Consumers want truth when they feel no connection with the product or the story. People want transparency when they can't tell how they benefit from the product and suspect ulterior motives.

We have seen exaggerated and fantastic work once before, and creativity thrives. We're in advertising; we are not in the business of following what the consumer thinks they want. We watch actions, research numbers, and give consumers the experience they've been looking for.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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