Linda & Richard Eyre: Sick and tired of negative, disingenuous advertising

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Are you as sick and tired of misleading and negative advertising as we are?

At its best, advertising can be annoying. But it seems that we have entered a new era of deception and even outright dishonesty in the claims advertisers make. It is increasingly important to teach our children not to be taken in and to have a healthy skepticism about the hundreds of advertising messages they see each day.

A good example is the “5-Hour Energy” ad that runs incessantly on the Olympic coverage channels. You know, the one where the woman sits by a big stack of “reports” and seems to tell us how “amazing” it is that 73 percent of 3,000 doctors recommend the use of their product.

If you listen closely, though, what she actually says is that these doctors recommend a low-calorie option for their patients who use energy supplements.

Well, duh! Of course doctors would say that if a healthy person insists on using an energy supplement, then a lo-cal one would be better than a high-calorie one.

“Subtle deception that sells product.” Unfortunately, that is one definition of advertising.

A good friend of ours who works in the advertising industry once told us that his definition was “making people think they need what they actually only want.”

Ads don’t have to be disingenuous or annoying. Procter & Gamble and Zions Bank both have fabulous, positive, highly honest ads during the Olympic coverage.

For parents, perhaps the most annoying advertising deception is all about how “sex sells.” Whatever the product is, advertising makes it look sexy by promoting it with scantily clad, impossibly beautiful women.

It’s not a bad idea, when you are watching TV with a child, to watch the ads with him or her and then to ask, “Do you believe that? What are they trying to sell us? How are they trying to get us to want it? Which parts of that ad are true and which parts aren’t?”

And by the way, the deception and negativity reach their highest (or lowest) levels these days with political advertising. There was a report the other day that 94 percent of the presidential ads during the last month were negative. Of course, both candidates say the worst ads were done by their super PACs and that they “have no control over them,” but they also refuse to disavow them.

And they keep getting worse. A recent PAC ad essentially says that the tragic cancer death of a woman is Romney’s responsibility, while another PAC ad takes a President Obama quote about “you didn’t build your business” completely out of context.

Where is the positive advertising? Why can’t either candidate give us his clear vision for America and make us believe in it and in him? Why do they continue to spend most of their money talking negatively about each other rather than talking positively about themselves?

The common answer is that negative advertising just works better. But how do we know that when no one is trying good, creative, positive advertising?

We personally think that if Mitt Romney spent all his advertising money (and insisted that his super PACs did the same) on creating a powerful, positive vision about a stronger, freer America with smaller government and less regulation and on portraying himself as the competent, honest, values-oriented man that he is, the contrast of that positive message with the surrounding negativity would make Romney our next president.

We were living in England when Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative party ran against Labor for the first time. Thatcher’s advertising was all about the vision she had for a better, less-regulated England built on private enterprise. Her ads were positive, they were creative, and they didn’t insult our intelligence or batter her opponent. And she won resoundingly.

Let's teach our kids to be good critics of advertising — to not be taken in by deceptive or disingenuous claims made in commercials. And let's teach them to be suspicious about negative things people say about each other and to make their choices on both products and on candidates by looking for the best, most positive aspects rather than the worst and most negative.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Read Linda's blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html and visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com.

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