Showing posts with label advertising. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advertising. Show all posts

May 4, 2022

Everybody Lies


  First, let me say I'm aware that I make things up for a living, so writing about lying is a little hypocritical. But I don't pretend that what I say is real, and that's the difference. Everyone in our society is bombarded with lies all day, every day. We're used to it. Sometimes we even enjoy it.

When analysts dig into why people believe lies, they find all sorts of explanations. Confirmation bias means we like things that reinforce what we already believe, so we accept lies that help with that. Many like leaders or organizations that tell them what to think, so they don't have to reason things out for themselves. If that leader lies, at least he's tough. If the organization runs to propaganda, at least it's working for "our" benefit. Another big reason we believe lies is fear. If we don't think we can cope with X, we like it when someone promises that X won't happen, even if we know in our hearts that it isn't true. Conversely, if the leader/organization says X will happen if he/it isn't in control, or if we're told the problem doesn't really exist, we want to believe that too. Life is less scary that way.

There are other theories about why we believe lies, but you get the idea. All sorts of psychological factors figure in. But here's an idea I haven't seen discussed before. What if we believe lies because we expect them? From the first day we can understand language, we're lied to. It's called advertising, and it's a billion-dollar industry. Advertising is expected and even respected as a necessary tool of business. Soft lies and hard lies, ads are built on convincing us something is true that probably isn't.

You're a consumer. It's your job to figure out what they're trying to do to your head.

Recognize the (sometimes subtle) messaging. "Is it true blonds have more fun?" a slogan from the olden days, played on women's desire to be attractive. Ads hint that you'll have more friends or be more admired if you buy this car or drink this vodka. The reverse is also true. They hint that NOT using a product will devastate your social life: bad breath, stinky pits, frizzy hair...the list of social "sins" is endless, and we rush out to buy products to "protect" us from ostracism.

Look past the hype. How likely is it that Pillow X is the best in the world? How much do you really care about which beer you drink? Do you really need that phone plan with bells and whistles you'll probably never use?

Note the background imaging. It's no mistake that while the drug company spokesperson is reading you that looooooong list of possible side effects, there are people on the screen doing fun things with family and friends in peaceful, scenic settings. It's called distraction.

Reject endorsements. Advertisers can always find someone who'll endorse a product if the money's right. I get very angry when celebrities push products, and my husband gets tired of me shouting "Whore!" at the TV.  How much would you bet that Actor X doesn't know jack about reverse mortgages? And if his old car broke down, wouldn't Rapper Y simply get a new, flashier one?

Note the wording. "Nine out of ten doctors surveyed would recommend this product." How many doctors actually answered their survey? Were they given some incentive to respond positively? How was the question worded? As Mark Twain said, "Gather your statistics, and then distort them as much as you please."

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Recently, a friend slapped her midsection and told me, "I gotta get rid of this, so I ordered some pills I saw on TV. You take one every night, and they dissolve your belly fat." Sometimes we want to believe so badly, it takes almost no effort to persuade us. But take a moment before you order the exercise machine the people on the screen seem to be enjoying so darned much. Picture yourself using it for even half an hour every day, for months. Is that ever going to happen? (Hint: For the vast majority of us, the answer is no.)

What does all this have to do with lies we're told outside the world of advertising? All our lives, we've been bombarded with advertising that lies to us, so we expect lies in other spheres. I hear people dismiss political discourse with, "They're all liars." It's become an excuse to turn our backs and not listen, not analyze, not vote. But in the face of politicians' lies (sometimes attributable to hyperbole or exaggeration or even wishful thinking), our job is to dissect what's said and separate what's true from what's false, what's possible from what's improbable. 

We've all fallen prey to advertisers' lies and bought products that didn't deliver. If we became wiser about how we spend our money, that's a good result. It follows then, that if everybody in our political system lies, our job is to look past the hype and find who has real value and who is all smoke and mirrors.

You're a citizen. It's your job to figure out what they're trying to do to your head.


Jan 18, 2021

I Too Lie for a Living

 Her Highness' First Murder (A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery Book 1) by [Peg Herring] 

Novelists are liars. As one of my contemporaries likes to say, "We make shit up."

The bad part of lying is why you do it.

For writers, it's about entertaining readers. Fiction in a story is harmless in most cases, though I get frustrated with historical novelists who twist facts to suit their story. They don't care if readers (who aren't generally historical experts) conclude that so-and-so wasn't really the villain the history books portray but was actually kind of a pussycat. 

Outside of books, lies take on a more treacherous role. We grew up bombarded daily with commercial advertising, and while some of us learned to think through the hype, others buy products they have no need for because they succumb to the tricks liars play. When I taught high school, I asked students to dissect ads looking for two things: what the specific goal is and how the ad makes its appeal. Often advertisers trigger a person's insecurities so they'll buy a product. (Beauty products are great examples.) Other products sell a vision of what people think will be a better life. Generally, the less essential/healthful a product is, the happier the scenery/actors/activity will be in the ad. (Think car companies, beer, and fast food restaurants.)

One would think that after a lifetime of that, modern citizens would easily recognize lies in politics, but recent times indicate exactly the opposite. Just as people run out to buy products that won't make them irresistible or purchase one more self-help app that's sure to fix their lives, large numbers of voters swallow complete untruths without bothering to fact check what's been said.

As I said earlier, lying in a novel is fairly harmless. Lying to sell a political candidate or idea isn't. Since it's hard to police falsehoods, the burden of finding the truth falls mostly on the consumer. When you read my books, I don't expect you to believe that Elizabeth Tudor solved murders with a commoner named Simon. It's an entertaining dive into the idea of "What if...?" 

When you go to the store, you don't have to buy products that claim to make you wiser, cuter, or more popular. You can think it through. You can look it up. (Try typing "Are some eggs better than others?" into the search bar and discover the answer. You might save yourself a few bucks.)

Most of all, you don't have to believe what any politician or analyst tells you. A few minutes on the internet, checking a variety of sites and reading objective analysis is a great way to counteract the lies that have plunged our nation into chaos. (Hint: if an article uses terms like "lying Republicans" or "socialist Democrats," it isn't going to help you find the truth.) Read the actual words a speaker used, not the edited version, not the slanted opinion that some commentator attaches to it. 

It's time to grow up and learn that lies should be tolerated only in fiction.


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