Am I Going To Get Sued For This?
“Advertising is legalized lying.” — H. G. Wells
People see between 4,000 and 10,000 ads a day according to some experts. That same article mentions an anecdotal account of a man who counted 487 ads before he finished his breakfast. Of course all of these aren’t necessarily formal advertisements, but just glimpses of logos or slogans. Still, the unavoidable fact is that we are exposed to a ton of ads every day.
And brands are paying for your attention. In 2019, Nike spent approximately 3.75 Billion dollars on advertising. So what are they spending their money on? How does that money translate into paying customers and brand loyalists that allow Nike, and other companies, to profit off of their hefty investment? By the way, if you were wondering like I was, Nike reported 39.1 Billion dollars in revenue for 2019, so yeah, I guess it was worth it.
They Aren’t Selling A Product, They Are Selling An Emotion
“Certainly, it seems true enough that there’s a good deal of irony in the world … I mean, if you live in a world full of politicians and advertising, there’s obviously a lot of deception.” -Kenneth Koch
Let’s stick with Nike for a moment. Think to yourself about a Nike ad you remember…just do it…
…Okay. Got one? The one that first came to mine to me was “Unlimited Will”, which features Kyle Maynard, a mountaineer who has no arms or legs. The ad shows a close up of Kyle climbing, and then it slowly pans to reveal he is climbing a mountain, and he jokingly says “he left them at home” when the narrator asks about his limbs. The screen goes black, and the classic “just do it” comes up on the screen. What is Nike actually selling here? At first, I didn’t even notice any Nike gear at all in the ad, but upon a second watch I noticed Kyle wearing a Nike beanie. Is this an ad for a Nike beanie? No. Of course not.
Nike has effectively branded “just do it” as a message of empowerment. Last year they featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad that your boomer parent, or co-worker probably grumbled about for a few days. The ad itself is really inspiring honestly, with multiple examples of people who have overcome their circumstances, sacrificed for a greater cause, and generally showed the good and socially impactful side of sports and humanity. So what’s my problem? It honestly just feels so disgustingly cynical. I’m sure people have been inspired to do great things by “just do it,” but all I can see is a company using convenient emotional appeals to make loads of money, while operating sweatshops in third world countries, and doing damage to the environment.
Don’t think I’m just hating on Nike (while I wear my Nike sweatpants like the huge hypocrite I am).
Do any of you remember the “America The Beautiful” campaign from Coca-Cola during the 2014 Super Bowl? It featured “America The Beautiful” being sung in many languages, while an ethnically diverse group of people, doing various activities flash across the screen. Just like the Nike ads, I am supportive of the message. America is at it’s best when it embraces the melting pot of diversity that makes us great. It would make a great art project, but instead, it’s being used to sell diabetes in a bottle, not to mention Coca-Cola’s own share of unethical behavior, including racism ironically enough.
The main reason companies use these emotional techniques in their advertising is because it works. People that try to teach others how to brand and advertise, encourage emotional advertising. All. The. Time. . Psychology Todayused MRIs to show that people use emotions rather than information to choose a product. But not you right? Next time you see one of these, you’ll see right through it, and then research the company who tried to manipulate you. Right?
The truth is, I don’t think we will be escaping from advertising and it’s emotional ploys any time soon, but I hope that next time you see an obvious emotional appeal in an advertisement, you can see it as the cynical psychological maneuver that it actually is. Don’t get your ethics from a giant corporation’s attempt to make money, and that’s coming from someone who agrees with the “ethical” stance both of the above videos took.
Alright, let’s look at one more, just for fun. I had actually not seen this one before I started researching for this article, but I had to share it after my jaw nearly hit the floor. Check out this one from the U.K. for McDonald’s from 2017.
Is that a commercial about getting emotional over ordering the same fish sandwich with tartar sauce from McDonald’s that your dead father used to? Yes, yes it is. The encouraging thing, is it has just about as many “dislikes” on YouTube as “likes.” So it seems that sometimes, people can see right through the heavy handed emotional manipulation. Let’s hope more people can start to see emotional appeals in advertising as the logical fallacy that they truly are.