17 Mar 2009

Boring. It's The New Exciting.

In the middle of a frivolous and gleefully insulting bit of mischief directed at humdrum pop act The Script , music blog Popjustice has inadvertently pointed out the elephant in the room of almost every meeting ever held in the history of marketing, namely that the vast majority of all products on sale today are actually pretty dull. This is in stark contrast to the language of advertising, a flurry of superlatives, hyperbole and giddy, wide-eyed teenage enthusiasm, delivered as if the audience has all had critical faculty bypasses. Instead, suggest Popjustice, why not use inherent dullness, safety or reliability as a positive rather than hiding it like the marketing equivalent of a combover? Aside from the famous exceptions (hello Ronseal), most products are sold using inherently dishonest language.

It's an interesting and amusing irony - an industry so vocal about accountability and transparency is clearly lying through its teeth at almost every turn. A quick and entirely unrepresentative flick through today's Metro sees the following hyperbole:

A gym is 'totally exciting'
As opposed to 'a bit whiffy, underused after the first year but you'll join because you know you'll only feel guilty about cake otherwise'.

Some mobile phones are 'amazing'
You know what, we're pretty much used to them now. Thanks.

An ISA is 'nice'
My gran is 'nice', my dog is 'nice', biscuits are 'nice'... but ISAs? Not so much.

A wireless internet connection is 'unbeatable'.
Again, compared to say, Superman, not so much.

Mobile broadband will apparently make you say 'wow'.
The last person to say 'wow' out loud reached adulthood in the late 1950s. And probably wrote this ad.

All of these claims are patent nonsense, but such is the lexicon of communication between brand and consumer. As consumers, we seem to understand that adverts are lying, that the language they use is riddled with exaggeration, but we just don't seem to care. As marketers, agency folk and media people, we buy into it, rarely questioning whether the next product might not, in fact, be the most unutterably wonderful thing since the dawn of creation.

Which is why a bit of honesty in communications can - depressingly - be so refreshing. It interrupts the torrent of hubris and makes us take notice, having to adjust the filters in our heads to make sure we actually read it right. Coupled with Nikki Gilmour's recent observations on this very blog on the value of kindness, we're seeing a bit of a pattern - in tough times, such old-fashioned ideas of kindness, common sense, honesty, realism and the comfort of our fellows are on their way back.

There's something very miserable about that, but at least it's a step in the right direction. Since dishonesty - or at best, gross exaggeration - is what essentially caused the late unpleasantness, perhaps the marketing industry could learn its own lesson, and start to speak with a clearer, kinder, more honest voice.


Murray said...

I was commenting on this only last night as yet another advert flashed across my screen with the "exaggerated effect" or "not in real life" disclaimer tagged across the bottom of it. It seems particularly prevalent in cosmetics. Hmmmmmm.

Alex said...

Only seems fair for cosmetics though, seeing as they're all about hiding a smashed-up looking face behind six layers of paste made from battleship paint and weedkiller.