September 25th, 2002

The gentleman is always properly dressed

Truth in Advertising

Today, I found myself considering the tactic of juxtaposing the concepts "large" and "small" in the same advertisement. (I’m not sure if there has been a recent proliferation of this or if I normally just don’t pay that much attention.) To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, my mother’s bank used the slogan, "The tiny bank with a big heart," before it was unceremoniously absorbed by a much larger corporate body. More often though, the idea moves in the opposite direction. For instance, I recently saw an advertisement for a car dealership that billed itself "The BIG store with the little prices."

There seems to be a sense amongst advertisers that their superlatives have become overwhelming to us mere mortal humans. This isn’t terribly surprising in a world of mega-corporations whose spheres of control are nearly limitless and whose structures so arcane that they put governments of small nations to shame. The scale of everything has become too much to bear. While there is a need to present the scope of the services they can provide, there is a way in which too much becomes dehumanizing.

Perhaps there is a belief that there isn’t sufficient depth in the superlatives of scale, so they begin to tap the wealth of the superlatives of scope. This is the whole idea of the retailer who boasts of being able to meet any need, but will still somehow give you the feel of shopping at a country store.

I’ve actually begun to think of this through ideas found in transcendental meditation. Supposedly, in contemplating the far reaches of the universe and the depths of the soul, you inevitably reach the same point, as both bring you to an understanding of infinity. Infinity is an attractive concept in marketing – after all, who wouldn’t want to patronize a provider of goods and services that was infinitely better than its competitors? Unfortunately, because infinity is also closely related to the concept of nothingness, an idea decidedly not welcome in business, by itself it becomes meaningless to the potential customer.

The answer is a simple one: use that confusion as a tool. The suggestion of infinity of scale reigned in by a similar suggestion of infinity of scope hides the fact that you are promised everything and nothing simultaneously. You follow these promises only to find that there really is nothing different offered than any of the other advertisers who use precisely the same strategies.
  • Current Mood
    Bad consumer! No biscuit!