Monday, July 18, 2005


Commercials suck. I don't think I need to tell anyone this fact.

When I'm waiting for the climax of my favorite shows on Adult Swim or the judging in Iron Chef America, the last thing I want to do is sit there and get peddled loan services and Tupperware.

An apologist for capitalism would say that advertising is an attempt to get information of good products out to the consumer. So tell me: Does any of the following sound like that?

*Sexy women implying that getting a beer belly gets one chicks
*Endorsements by sports stars and Snoop Dogg
*Bad comedy
*The "water is wet" approach: AOL trying to claim that they're great because they have a spam filter, when everyone has a spam filter; vegetable oils claiming that they have no cholesterol, when it's flatly impossible for vegetable oil to have cholesterol unless it's artifically added in
*The "psuedo-democracy" approach: You can vote for your favorite gum type! (Never mind you won't get to try the three gums).
*The "We got sued and we want to look good" commercial: Philip-Morris pretending to care about people smoking their product
*The outright lie: The implication in Splenda commercials that Splenda is a safe sweetener, when in fact it's only slightly less dangerous than other artifical sweeteners (,,, ) according to most independent scientists

Notice that all of the above say nothing about the product, and many actively deny rational choice by offering false or misleading information.

And what about selecting between two products? Do commercials tell you the relative values of products? No, they only tell you one side of the story.

Actually, they usually tell you a lie even on their side of the issue. Studies have shown that knock-off cereals, usually identical in blind taste tests and from the same manufacturers, taste worse compared to the brand dominant cereal when the brand name is revealed. There is an unexpected psychic impact to saturation of advertising.

Then again, advertising can be problematic as well. I know that when I watch certain esoteric commercials I don't remember anything about the product or even its name, just the commercial. (Might it be subconscious imprinting? Maybe.)

This points up a major problem of capitalism: there's no qualitative information that tells regulators or producers why they bought product X over product Y or over no product at all. If someone bought cereal because their children were being pressured by endless repetition of commercials, a producer wouldn't know...or care.

It's not just that commercials are annoying distractions from our favorite pop jingles or cop dramas. It's not just that the constraints that such commercials put on TV harshly truncate the quality of American news coverage. It's not even that the advertising is a blatant attempt to force consumption of goods that people don't really need or want and allow inferior goods to rise above superior ones thanks to market inundation.

It's that every dollar spent on commercials, every social scientist working to analyze the results of focus groups and surveys, every writer and creative mind put to work creating catchy slogans and themes, in short all of the effort and creativity, is an utter and complete waste, a waste that is wholly required by the system.


Anonymous Lydia said...

In New Zealand they agree with you. Check out this press release:

Splenda Ads by Johnson & Johnson Are Misleading, Says Advertising Standards Board
New Zealand Ad Authority Upholds Complaint Against J&J

Washington, D.C. [July 25, 2005] -- The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Johnson & Johnson for misleading marketing practices in advertisements for the chlorinated artificial sweetener Splenda. “This complaint is on the basis that Splenda is being compared directly to sugar and misleading and confusing consumers into thinking it’s as natural as sugar because it’s ‘made from sugar and tastes like sugar,’” according to the upheld complaint.

The Authority’s Advertising Standards Complaints Board, made up of representatives from New Zealand’s advertising and marketing agencies, reviewed 15 second and 30 second versions of an ad for the artificial sweetener along with focus group input. The Board determined that the ad deceived consumers into thinking Splenda is all natural like sugar, when it is actually a chemical compound. “The [Splenda] advertisement...gave rise to a likelihood of a consumer being confused and mislead as a result of the comparison in the advertisement,” the Board decided. According to the ASA, when the Board upholds a complaint, they ask the company not to run the ad again.

In reality, the product Splenda does not contain and is not sugar. The artificial sweetener ingredient (sucralose) in Splenda is manufactured chemically. The sweetness of Splenda is due to the chlorocarbon chemical (sucralose) that contains three atoms of chlorine in every one of its molecules. In fact, the name sucralose is misleading because it is not a sugar but a chlorinated chemical.

In the United States, Johnson & Johnson is currently involved in more than ten federal and consumer class action lawsuits alleging misleading marketing for the chlorinated artificial sweetener Splenda.

“This is an important ruling for consumers. As more and more sweeteners are used to formulate foods in the U.S., consumers need to be vigilant in reading the ingredients part of the Food Label to verify if the product is made with all natural real sugar or some man-made, chemical sweetener. To help consumers, advertising of these food products must be accurate and not misleading,” says Andy Briscoe, President of the Sugar Association.

The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority was formed in 1973 and is a self-regulating body comprised of marketing and advertising agencies in New Zealand.

To learn more about the truth about Splenda, please contact Rich Masters at Qorvis Communications at 202-496-1000, email at or visit the website

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12:16 PM  
Blogger Frederic Christie said...

Individual cases of egregious fraud are prosecuted. The state in capitalist societies often serves to insure the long term viability of the system even at the short term cost of some actors. A market cannot operate without some laws. Stealing is the most obvious, but fraud also undermines the market by preventing the best product from being chosen by consumers and making competition based on irrelevant variables to product quality. I think the fact that in the US (and almost undoubtedly elsewhere), even these tepid lawsuits over obviously flawed products cost so much, come so late and so infrequently and are so vigorously opposed (often as "frivolous lawsuits", as if the idea that McDonald's should pay some of the social cost of their product is frivolous) indicates the broader problem.

Advertisement is a waste and it is only necessary because we have capitalism. If the hope of TV without cereal ads gets people to the revolution, I'll scream it into people's beds at night.

2:10 PM  

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