This is the first in a series of posts looking at the modern world and asking why you are not angry about it, I’m genuinely interested in any answers because I look at such things and wonder not only how we have got here but where the hell we’re going if people are prepared to accept so blithely what is happening now.

Once upon a time advertisements told you the name of something and what it was for.  One of the principles of the old Eastern block that one might wish had survived was the functionality of adverts, since all products were produced by state factories there was no need for competitive oneupmanship and adverts could confine themselves to be factual.  In the Western world however we have long since been used to adverts eulogising about their products, often to the point of ridiculous hyperbole and/or sometimes using carefully manipulated statistics, look for example at the current Andrex advert which uses the term – “unbeatably long” as part of the loud spoken section of its advert.  Now read the small print bits which they are advised to put to pay lip service to the Advertising Standards Agency rules “*excluding longer lasting double roll products.”  Now forgive my pedantry but ‘unbeatable’ is not an ambiguous word, it does not mean things that are quite good in their field it means something that is without compare and since, by their own admission, the Andrex product in fact can fail some comparisons it is a denigration of language to allow them to use the word ‘unbeatable.’  I would argue that to use the terms ‘excluding longer-lasting….’ is pretty underhand because of the precedent this sets.  Anything can be claimed to be the best in trumpeted terms delivered by money-hungry celebrities with the footnote that this ‘excludes things that are actually better.’  What this means is that we are heralding mediocrity, celebrating things that may be a bit shit but have a good marketing campaign.  (I’m a Mac user so don’t even get me started on that argument!)

This is nothing terribly new though, in fact after the ASA rules changed as to what was acceptable adverts were even allowed to make directly derogatory remarks about their competitors, under the guideline that any such claims must be quantifiable and correct.  No loophole that one might drive a bus through there then…

This is in fact easily manipulated, as in the example of Asda who have been maintaining for some time now that a basket of shopping is cheaper with them than with the other supermarkets, or rather that an independent price comparison website has been carrying out the survey.  How many people after seeing the advert have attempted to check what items are supposedly in this basket, whether the supermarkets know in advance which products will be checked, or how mysupermarket.com is funded?  I’m not saying at this stage that there is definitively any conspiracy, that is for you to find out, the point I want to highlight is the general level of acceptance on the “factual” basis of adverts without any objective questioning.

It was bad enough that we should allow companies to publicise false or misleading claims, after all a survey of 200 people conducted by a cosmetics company should not then suddenly be turned into a representation of the entire female gender as a whole without at the very least the publication to substantiate just how representative that group of 200 really was.  If, as one might suspect, such claims are based on white middle-class middle-aged females it becomes far less likely to appear representative of everyone.

I dislike the asinine nature of most of the adverts and how condescending they are so often to us mere mortals however there appears to be a new trend that I find a great deal more insidious, perhaps because it seems to be using much wider semantic techniques or perhaps because it shows that not content with pulling the wool over our eyes in the many ways they already can companies are now prepared to take it a step further.

I first noticed it with Direct Line car insurance.  At the beginning it was mentioned that Direct Line didn’t use price comparison sites so as to cut out the middle men but they have since dropped this and seek to imply that this is in some way doing you, the consumer, a favour.  What might this favour be, to consign you to having to speak to each individual insurance provider for a quote as we had to do before the comparison sites were set up?  What is far more likely in fact is that price comparison sites are bad business for companies not generally at the forefront of the cheapest providers and having originally been part of them Direct Line no longer take part.  Now one might argue that Direct Line choose to stand against these sites because they take a commission, though this does not affect the consumer, or that they have a potential conflict of interest as some of them are part-owned by insurance companies, these would be valid criticisms and a force for increased consumer information, but they do not do this they choose to dress up their stance in a crusading way, the price comparison sites are depicted as crow-like beings being shooed away, this is very clever imagery.

Sky Sports News were the next offender, lauding their removal from the Freeview package as part of some elaborate football transfer read by vacuous smiling faced newsreaders telling you that this was a major story, it was going to be big, and dressing it up around Sky’s plans to grow bigger whilst actually clearly contracting, at least in terms of the user base able to view the channel, retracting it to be only available to those who pay to view.

Like the Direct Line example this is all anti-consumer practice which far from being brushed under the carpet where it might later be exposed it is now vaunted as part of deliberate policy to help you and me.  I believe this tactic is new, at least it is in my experience obviously one expects companies to behave cynically they are in the business of making money and must therefore make you part with it by any means necessary and within the context of an educated population that understand this is the way capitalism works this is fine.  But we are no longer such an educated population and a good deal of the horseshit that is shovelled at you now on the television is now accepted wholesale, we are perhaps but one small step away from the Fox News hegemony where you are told what to think.  For anyone who knows either 1984 or Metropolis this is seriously chilling stuff indeed.

Song Of The Day ~ Model Morning – Sinew

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