Do you enjoy watching advertisements? In this modern society, we live with excessive amount of advertisements around us, trying to lure us to buy their products. Although everything might seem chaotic with all those commercials, there actually are some categories and sequences that those advertisements follow, and it is quite helpful to know them to protect ourselves from buying products compulsively or believing in false idea. The above images are example of what is called Comparison advertising.
The four car posters above are exchanging playful comments of other’s competitors, while showing off their strengths: the reputation of BMW’s designs, Audi’s mobility, Subaru’s engine quality and the unquestionable confidence in their cars from Bentley. It is fun. It is exciting. And most importantly, it is informative. You can easily understand what is going on, and you are in control of the information you are receiving. But is this always the case? Do you believe you get to choose what to believe from advertisements? Here are some examples, specifically comparison advertisements that need to be reviewed in a critically.
In this Samsung Galaxy commercial, people are in line for a smart phone which is not the one that is advertised. The situation looks familiar in that it resembles the well-known line of Apple fans queing to buy the latest release in front of an Apple store. Undoubtably, Samsung is mocking Apple and its customers. It is quite humorous how the advertisement captured the details of the people in the line and their conversations make it more so. Yet there is more to the message disguised in humor. The advertisement denounces its competitor Apple, by featuring the demographic of the customers as ‘unattractive’ for making dull jokes, ‘boring’ for being surprised at a seemingly minor change of the new iPhone, and ‘old’ by featuring elderly, old-fashioned parents of a young Galaxy user in the line. The final punch line “this is the line for apps, I stand for?” shows the attempt of the advertisement to shape certain image of the competing company.
There are mainly two problems with this. First, instead of advertising Samsung’s product or the company, it belittles its rival product in an attempt to show its superiority of the product they are advertising. It focuses on creating images of its competing company which can end up becoming stereotypical. Ironically, it talks more about its competitor than itself. This leads to the second problem in that it has almost no information of what they are trying to advertise. The Galaxy S model is mentioned and featured for a few seconds, but the reason for its superiority or the customer’s satisfaction of the product is not featured. It ends up being a comparison advertisement without proper comparison.
Besides commercials creating a consensus regarding its competitors, there are other comparison advertisements that bear additional issues. For example, to the extent of creating negative images of other companies, some advertisements even spread information that are not true or have not been proven to be true. Those advertisements are dangerous for they not only attack the competeting company, but also spread rumors about it. Take this advertisement of South Korea for an example.
The model in the commercial, a famous female actress in South Korea, continuously asks “Is sodium caseinate or milk better for your lover?” She emphasizes that the coffee mix that she is advertising contains milk instead of sodium caseinate, a chemical synthetic milk substitute. None of the phrases state that sodium caseinate harms your health or is an insufficient substitute for milk. Yet, it implies that sodium caseinate is an unhealthy additive to coffee and unlike other coffee products, coffee mix in the commercial does not contain the chemical synthetic. The advertisement became viral and people started to believe that other coffee companies have been adding harmful chemical substances in their products without notifying their customers. Coffee companies and dairy product companies started to explain their stances and this one advertisement caused a fuss among competing companies and their customers. (article regarding the process) However, when the safety of substituting milk with sodium caseinate was questioned in the 1980s, the Korean Food and Drug Administration proved that the chemical had no impact on the human body and is a chemical that sufficiently replaces milk. Also, further research revealed that even though the company advertises “not having chemical substance called sodium caseinate”, it still contains caseinate in their product, which is a chemical synthetic for milk and uses sodium caseinate for their dairy product. Overall, it is a smart advertisement. Just by asking a question “is Sodium caseinate or milk better?”, the advertisement created an illusion that sodium caseitnate is harmful, that other products contain the substances and that their company does not use chemical substances. But the message was an ill-willed rumor intended to look like a fair comparison.
Alfred Adler, the founder of the school of individual psychology, said, “Man does not see reality as it is, but only as he perceives it.” Commercials take this premise to their advantage and specialize in creating illusions to lure people. It has a message and advertisements use almost any method to manufacture a consensus, including comparing its product to others. And as interesting commercials are, sometimes they leave only a few choices or information to the viewers to create the illusion that they are choosing their own beliefs when actually, the advertisement is feeding it. But there is nothing to be worried about. As Noam Chomsky says in his article ‘On Staying Informed and Intellectual Self-Defense’, it is possible to protect ourselves with effort and information. It’s important to stay alert to possibilities and see through the subtle information that advertisements are providing. After all, as in another Adler’s premise, “man are decision makers.”
Business dictionary, comparison advertisement, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/comparison-advertising.html (confirmed, December 23rd, 2012)
Agri-dairy product Inc., sodium caseinate, http://www.agridairy.com/specs/Dairy/Caseins/SodiumCaseinate.pdf
AE : Skye
EIC : Alan