Advertising Is Exaggerating The Benefit. Period.

Why Advertising Needs Exaggeration To Be Creative

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One of the most common methods advertising agencies use to sell a product is exaggeration. Now, it cannot be just a little bit of exaggeration, as that could get confused with reality. No, it has to be "full-on, out there, only a complete idiot would believe it" exaggeration. 

For example, let's imagine that you're selling a car. In the TV ad, the driver gets into the car, revs it up, and then the car takes off. The speedometer shows the car going 180mph. Now, it's a regular road car, and the average production car has a top speed of around 110mph. Some can go a little faster. But the point is, 180mph is not enough of an exaggeration. The average consumer could very easily think the car can go that fast. However, if you show the speedometer breaking the needle, and flames shooting from the wheels as it takes off and passes a plane, well, that's not believable at all. That's conveying speed but ridiculously. Now the ad is saying the car feels fast. It's more about emotion than reality. 

In the crazy world of advertising, pigs can fly, babies can talk, and teleportation is real. The reason it is employed as a technique is simple: it makes the ad more impactful, and more memorable. You don't expect to see "puppymonkeybaby" dancing in your living room, or satan offering you a car in exchange for your eternal soul. And thus, the ad gets noticed and is remembered.

However, due to new laws threatening the way advertising works in the UK, this could change.

How Advertising Standards Vary Around The World

Sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander. Different countries have different standards, and these cover things like misleading statements, unfair competitor comparisons, nudity, profanity, and, of course, what counts as an obvious exaggeration versus something that could be believed by the average consumer. 

In America, you can call out competitors in ads. It's a full-on fist fight. Pepsi once bitch-slapped Coke with the Santa On Vacation ad. The infamous, and brilliant, "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads did the same thing over a whole campaign. And after Apple was done taking swipes at PCs, the tables were turned and PCs, thanks to Microsoft, hit back with another campaign.

In Australia, France, Sweden, and other countries, the rules are so relaxed that nudity and swearing is often part of the advertising mix. Some ads in the past have featured naked, sweaty women in saunas, men, hiding their arousal with newspapers and, well, it just goes downhill from there.

But in the United Kingdom, advertising guidelines are way more rigid than they are in Uncle Sam. Many young copywriters and art directors want to get into public battles with competitor products, only to be told that it's not allowed. You just can't call out the rivals in the ads; it's not done. And advertising standards are getting more and more strict, with ads being banned for simply making too much of an exaggerated claim.

What Is The Impact of Banning Ads?

When the UK banned some cosmetics advertisements, it made many sit up and think - what message is this sending out?

Advertising is not supposed to mislead. It can't tell you a product will do something it clearly cannot. But it often does exaggerate a benefit to the point of ridiculousness. Just look at the following list of "product benefits" that could never really be made:

  • Axe Deodorant ensures that extremely attractive women will run after you begging for sex, regardless of what you look like or what you do.
  • Red Bull makes you sprout wings and fly. Literally.
  • Wonderbra makes your breasts look so big that men will swerve off the road, children can use them to shelter from the rain, and you'll get to be a CEO without having any experience or qualifications.
  • Energizer batteries last almost an eternity!
  • Tabasco is so hot; your breath will set fire to things and melt plastic.

It is pervasive. Recently, a quite a clever ad showed a woman opening a can of tuna with her nail. The product was, naturally, for something that helped strengthen nails. Will any woman EVER be able to do this? Clearly not. It's an exaggerated benefit to make a point. This product strengthens nails.

Banning ads gets us into some very nasty territory, which could take advertising into a very scared and litigious place. Once upon a time, a can of peanuts was just a can of peanuts. Now, that can of peanuts must be labeled "contains nuts." Yes, we're definitely on the defensive these days.

Should Ads Have To Make Declarative Statements?

It's not so far-fetched to think that one ad being banned could lead to a slew of new rules and regulations surrounding ads. What was once a playground for creativity could become a minefield that no client wants to navigate. And if they do, oh the legal jargon that would have to accompany it.

Here's a look at just a few of the products mentioned earlier, now with the appropriate legal jargon to keep everyone safe. Is this a good direction to go in? No. But is it possible? With the legal system working the way it does, who knows. 

  • AXE - *Smells OK, but it will not actually make you irresistible to women.
  • RED BULL - *Will give you a bit more energy but won't actually give you wings.
  • WONDERBRA - *Visibly increases breast size but will not make them enormous or guarantee any kind of pay raise or promotion.
  • ENERGIZER - *Last about as long as any other battery, and it isn't decades.
  • TABASCO - *A spicy sauce that won't actually give you superhuman dragon breath.