Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


The Delicate Art of Ad Deception

On our way home one evening, Rick and I caught yet another one of the Toronto Transit System's "Hero" ads.

To give you a brief overview, the TTC has received a lot of criticism for their less-than-adequate service. Whether it's due to the tight budget restrictions or unionized workers, is anyone's guess. It remains that the TTC has a long way to go to match the quality of mass transit in cities like London.

Knowing these issues, the TTC ran a series of ads portraying acts of "heroism" by employees.

This would all be well and good if the acts were in deed, heroic. The Eye, a local weekly newspaper, did a good job exposing the ads for what they are - delusive.

They're familiar to any TTC rider: posters lauding brave TTC warrior Elsie Vaters, a streetcar driver who saw a child wandering DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO ONCOMING TRAFFIC (capitalization theirs), and stopped her car to pick the kid up. Or, on a new wave of spruced-up posters, husband-wife team Deborah and Brad Ireland, who, when spotting a kid wandering on the railroad tracks, stopped their train, called for help to have the power shut off and then scooped him off the tracks rather than running him over.

But that doesn't make you a hero, it makes you a citizen...

Campaigns like the TTC's aren't just irritating, they devalue heroism and undermine acts of exceptional bravery or compassion. It's something you see everywhere: people being crowned with laurels for doing things they not only should do, but are in fact getting paid to do.
-- Just doing their jobs, JOEL McCONVEY

"Some would call him a hero..." Really? Cause it ain't me.

And consider WalMart's latest desperate grasp to promote their employment policies by taking out full page ads in national newspapers.

Wal-Mart ad puts on a happy face

The company purchased a full-page ad in the Tribune and more than 100 newspapers around the country Thursday in hopes of changing what it claims is its unfairly tarnished image. The ad was presented as a long letter from Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott disputing criticism leveled against the company by unions and rivals. Scott said he wants to "set the record straight with the real facts."

"The bottom line is if the charges are true Wal-Mart should quietly rectify the problems in communities where there are problems," said Paul Levinson, chairman of Fordham University's department of communications and media studies. "If Wal-Mart hadn't launched this campaign, people in areas not affected wouldn't even know about any problems."
When facing criticism, it is natural to want to somehow counter the attack. But we know that to focus on a defensive position, we paint ourselves into a corner. We not only remind the audience of our deficits but also, as in the above scenarios, can resort to weasel wording in lieu of honesty.

Be careful to do your homework and present only honest information in ad campaigns. Assume that your audience will be able to detect false promises and desperate attempts.