Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reading Advertisements

platano's picture

Women Lie, Men Lie
…And so do Advertisements
When facing an unwanted consequence, the person’s choices are scarce. People sometimes feel the need to lie; and apart from avoiding consequences lying has other benefits. Advertisements have reaped many benefits by either lying or by taking an angle on a certain product. Although we absorb many advertisements every day, we aren’t taught to “read” them as we would other narratives. This has lead most of us to fall for advertising schemes. Some of us are lucky to we have teachers that challenge us to ask questions and be skeptical. But we don’t always apply that same inquiry outside of the classroom. We don’t always fact check information given on advertisements. This can sometimes hurt your health as much as it hurts your pockets. 
            One of these advertising schemes is making the product seem better than it actually is – which could involve lying. One popular advertising slogan is “Green – It’s the new black.” By giving a product the same appeal that “black” has had in clothing products for women, it makes people more likely to buy it. Although, this may seem harmless, there are some companies that have claimed things that simply aren’t true. Some companies have been found out, but it makes me wonder what other things we are ignorant about.

Recently, CNN ran a story on phone companies that market “4G” phones and deemed the concept a myth because the networks were not operating at that speed. They state that a standard 4G network is defined by a speed of 100 Mbps. Not only do the three phones companies, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, market their phones as 4G, but they also perform at about the same speed that other 3G networks perform.


There is much debate as to what the companies mean by 4G, and it seems to vary from company to company. There has been an ongoing debate about whether it is even possible to have a 4G network because of the restrictions they would have to place on the products. Kevin Fitchard tried to make sense of the complicated situation.

“Verizon and all 4G operators are basically of two minds. They want to set 4G apart from mobile broadband by implying that all the limitations of 3G have disappeared with these new networks. Yet it still wants—actually needs—to keep some of those old 3G limitations in place. LTE may be faster, and it may be more operationally efficient, but wireless spectrum and network air-time are still limited resources….That’s kind of like selling people sports cars and then telling them they can only drive in school zones. “
Companies may be selling a phone with an altered 3G network, but if they market it as “4G” then more people will be willing to buy it. CNN argues that they are unjustly marketing this product, because the network performs just at 10% of the speed it should. It seems that the phone companies rushed to sell the product before the definition of “4G” was officially defined.
            There have been instances in the past that where advertisements have been detrimental to a person’s health because of clever advertisements and failure to explain the risks. Perhaps the most relevant example of this is the tobacco companies who failed to state the risks of smoking cigarettes. Although, this eventually became public, tobacco companies are still effective in marketing their product. They appeal to the stories that make us human, and to the images that we want to present to others. That’s how they’ve always done it.
            For example, when Ronald Regan was just a radio personality, the cigarette company Chesterfield used him to advertise their product:

This presents the image of a handsome celebrity who smokes the “best,” causing people who aspire to be perceived as such a person to go out and buy Chesterfield cigarettes. By changing the image and the message the ad is trying to portray they can appeal to a wider audience.
            It’s interesting that they practice the same thing that Robert Cole’s values in his book “A Call of Stories,” and that is the value that narratives have on people. This is what makes televisions and other forms of media so interesting. They are appealing to something intrinsic in us that cause us to relate to what they’re showing us. They are selling much more than a product; they are selling a lifestyle along with the product. From the angle that Cole’s perceives narratives they are essential in order to understand humans and help them progress. Narratives are enjoyable because in the act of hearing a story, you end up interpreting it in a way that relates to your life. By appealing to an audience using a narrative, advertisements can forge that same bond between you and a product. We will, however, continue to  fall for such schemes, if we don’t treat advertisements as another narrative that we need to interpret and be skeptical about.
 1. Goldman, David. "4G is a myth (and a confusing mess)." CNNMoney. CNN, 12/01/2010. Web. 3 Dec 2010.
2. Fitchard, Kevin. "Is VZW's 4G network too fast for its own good?." Connected Planet. Pention Media Inc., 12/03/2010. Web. 3 Dec 2010.
3. Coles, Robert. The Call of Stories. Boston, MA: Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

ways of seeing

you've taken our general discussion of the fuzzy line between fact and fiction, the dissolution of the binary of "non-fiction" and fiction, and applied it to the specific activity that is advertising, which attempts to sell (and in that attempt, often exaggerates, if not outright lies). In a famous little book (now video) called Ways of Seeing, John Berger argues that the way advertising works is by surrounding us w/ images of an "alternative way of life," which works on our imagination by showing us people who have been transformed--and so are enviable: "Publicity is the activity of manufacturing glamour." His idea that advertising creates envy seems to me to fit very nicely w/ your claims that media is "appealing to something intrinsic in us that cause us to relate to what they’re showing us. They are selling much more than a product; they are selling a lifestyle along with the product."

So, where to go from here? What questions does your essay raise for you? The places where I would welcome further conversation are around your warning that we will continue to "fall for such schemes, if we don’t treat advertisements as another narrative that we need to interpret and be skeptical about." Your strong point here is about the danger of stories, and so works as a very interesting counter to Coles' celebration of their power.