Sitting on a train during rush hour, your attention is caught by an ad with a handsome man holding a pill. It says, ‘Accessing 100% of your brain is now possible with THE CLEAR PILL!’ This definitely sparks your curiosity, especially if you’re stressed with summer exams approaching or your company is planning lay-offs and you’re wondering if you’ll be smart enough to make the cut. But once you read the first sentence, your eyes slip a bit down and you see the warning,
‘SIDE EFFECTS WILL INCLUDE PARALYSIS, PSYCHOSYS, EXTREME SEXUAL APPETITE, BRAIN DAMAGE, IRREVERSIBLE COMA, HOMICIDAL BLACKOUTS, AND SUDDEN DEATH’.
You start reading it again and again until you come across the fine print and actually see the website’s name with the word ‘film’. You realize it wasn’t another sequel to the endless ads we see about the next big mind performance drug or brain enhancement vitamin after all. Too bad – it could have really helped on your exam or with impressing your boss in the next board meeting!
Newly dumbfounded, you begin to wonder just how anyone can really distinguish between reality and fiction, between the real ad and the movie one. The film industry fights for our attention in all possible ways since we, the audience, are so picky and unimpressed that just a pretty face of an actress or a gorgeous body of an actor is no longer effective on its own anymore.
Come to think of it, almost any recent movie ad might have been presented in similar reality-stretching ways. Take, for instance, recent popular films like ‘The Black Swan’ and the ‘The King’s Speech’. The first one could be posted in front of our eyes in a tube with something like, ‘Watch the real ballet with the tragic ending’ and then on the bottom, ‘Everyday from 1 January in cinemas’. The last one could read something like a magic show: ‘Come and see for yourself that Kings can be cured from stuttering’.
A film and an actual commodity (say, a dress from a particular clothing outlet) are both ‘products’ to be sold, but we usually associate each with slightly different promotion techniques. Confusing the two would be like advertising the movie ‘School of Rock’ by misleading consumers into thinking the school actually exists and attracting would-be student-musicians by making it seem that they can sign up for classes. But some might wonder why more and more ads like to assume the audience is dumb. Is misleading the consumer, even if it’s just for a moment, really the best that we can do?