A case in point might be ad with the guy talking to an insurance agent on the phone in the middle of the night whose wife seems to think that he’s talking to a female “dial a porn” agent. The “wife” grabs the phone and says, “Who is this?” The (male) insurance agent responds and she says to her “husband,” “She sounds hideous.” or something like that. Then the “husband” responds, “Well, he’s a guy!” Okay, I may be reading too much into this, but the “gay” implications of this has always struck me as odd, and unnecessary.
Then there’s the negative political ad which said, “She’s been caught plagiarizing many times, but with a record like hers, you’d plagiarize it, too.” Somehow the idea that this candidate should be expected to only espouse completely original ideas seems unreasonable. And, perhaps worse, there seems to be an implication that it’s likely that the average viewer doesn’t really understand what plagiarism is, just that it’s a BAD thing. I think that we should reward candidates with the knowledge to recognize a good idea and promote it. Yes, they shouldn’t claim it as originating with themself, but I don’t understand why they seem to think we should expect perfect creativity from everybody. That seems contrary to logic. It also seems somewhat insulting to the viewer’s intelligence.
The ad for some sort of pet medicine featuring Jack Hanna showing people (all Caucasian as I remember it) and dogs frolicking on the beach while a version of “Wimoweh” (more like The Tokens 1960’s version (called “the Lion Sleeps Tonight”) than the 50’s one of Pete Seeger and/or The Weavers) plays has always seemed odd to me. The song, “Wimoweh,” of course, is an African song, which refers to a lion sleeping in the jungle, and seems to make little sense as an accompaniment to video of white people and dogs playing on the beach. Perhaps it’s just that I’m an old “Folkie,” but this has always struck me as making little sense, and, perhaps, being a little racist.
Then there’s the constant barrage of ads indicating that older people have absolutely no understanding of Facebook, etc., which seems to build on the rather prejudiced belief that “old” people are completely out of touch with contemporary reality. It’s also contrary to the fact. According to the Pew Research Center, 49% of Internet users age 65 and up use social networking sites. Perhaps it’s just that I (as an older guy) resent this implication that old means stupid, but it seems that this is, probably, what is being implied. While this may not be intended, it is a reasonable conclusion to draw from this sort of ad and doesn’t seem particularly funny, at least to me.
There have been frequent attacks on the lingerie and fashion industry for ads promoting unrealistic body images for women, so the idea that ads may have unintended messages isn’t just mine. I think that Victoria’s Secret has been the most common target in the media, but there are others, as well. Now I won’t argue that using exclusively tall, skinny (but busty) models may send unrealistic messages about the “ideal” female body, but much the same could be said about a lot of fashion advertising for men (or children). While it can be, and has been, argued that advertisers are not intending to promote unhealthy images, that, is, generally, the result of these ads. Certainly the problem appears to be greater among (especially young) women. However, most of these ads also seem to reinforce the idea that all men should be tall, broad-shouldered, athletic appearing, etc. These are not particularly reasonable images for either sex. On the other hand, it’s understandable that manufacturers would a desire to want potential customers to think that their products are used by “attractive” people, which is why they use these types in their ads. After all, if these “attractive” people use our products, they must be part of what makes them attractive.
That suggests to me that the real problem is with the societal notion of what is “attractive.” Maybe if we all stopped worrying about buying these products in order to “prove” that we are “attractive,” (at the most superficial level, of course) these companies might be more likely to use more “normal” body types, etc. Of course, the real unintended message here is that there is only one definition of “attractive” and we all have to conform to that.
Hotels, etc. are always advertising that they feature a “Free hot breakfast” or “Free Wi-Fi” and the like. The alternative word choice to “free” is “complimentary.” Of course, it takes little thought to realize that what this really means is that you have already paid for it in the cost of your stay, but the assumption (and the message) seems to be that you are too stupid to realize that.
There’s a ad for some university I saw recently which claimed, “At ************** University, everything is possible.” which seems unlikely, if you think about it, but the ad goes on the suggest that “The people at *****************University will always find a way to make you succeed.” I’m probably reading too much into this, but it sounds like they are saying that they will lie, cheat, inflate grades, etc., in order to make sure that there is the appearance that you are successful. It seems to me that if there is no possibility of failure, there’s unlikely to be much benefit, either. I don’t think that this is the intended message, but it does seem to be what they’re saying.
Automobile ads can be interesting, as well. For example, there’s the ad showing a teen-aged couple awkwardly kissing in a car (a VW Beetle) with the voiceover suggesting that “Your car is an engine for life.” There’s also the Subaru ad which says something like “When our little girl was born, we got a Subaru. It’s where she said her first word, went to her first day of school, made a best friend forever. The back seat of my Subaru is where she grew up.” To anyone who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s (at least) the idea of “growing up” in the back seat of a car, or that a car can be an “engine for life” suggests something which, I think, is probably not fully intended by the manufacturers.
There’s also the Jaguar car ad which shows a Jag doing “wheelies” and the tag line says that you should “mark your territory.” Perhaps you have to be a cat owner to appreciate it, but this seems suggest a lack of awareness as to how cats actually accomplish this. In any event, I’m not sure the message sent aligns with the intent.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that none of the, seemingly, unintended messages are really unintended. I suspect that the lawn supply store in Omaha known as The Grass Pad, is probably aware of the implications of their slogan, “Get on down to the grass pad. The grass pad – high on grass.”
Maybe I’m just reading too much into these, but I do find it interesting and amusing that so much advertising seems to have messages beyond the obvious ones. Am I the only one who notices this? If you have favorite ad of this sort, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.