For starters, I draw a line at provably false claims. Don’t ask me to say that your face cream reverses or even retards aging. It doesn’t. Hides wrinkles? Sure, as long as you can show me and I don’t have to add a footnote that says, “Valid only in absolute darkness.”
I also draw a line at claims that are not provably true, which is not quite the same thing as provably false. If you say that your product emits positive vibes, no one can prove that it doesn’t. But since no one can prove that it does, either, I’m not going to write ads encouraging people to give you money for it.
Except, now, permit me to contradict myself. Claims like “tastes great,” “you’ll be amazed,” “low prices,” “look your best,” “hot deal,” “convenient,” “save a bundle,” “long-lasting” and “your friends will envy you” don’t always qualify as “provably true.” Much of the time (though not all of the time), I see no harm in them. (Have at it, trolls.)
Then there’s this thing called putting your best foot forward. It necessarily means keeping your non-best foot out of sight. Be honest. You do it all the time, and so do I. If we didn’t, none of us would ever have landed a job or gone on a first date. Thus I see no reason that your ad for a jacket should be required to point out that you use a plastic zipper while your competitor uses a metal one.
For that matter, I see no reason for Alterna Ten ads to call attention to cheaper brands that get hair clean and smell good, for Omaha Steaks to tell you to watch your cholesterol, or for Hallmark to warn you about paper cuts.
Yet I support warning messages prominently displayed on cigarette packaging. Not that I’m convinced they do anything but annoy smokers who haven’t tuned them out.
Speaking of which, should cigarette advertising be permitted? Though this agency would decline it (yeah, right, as if RJR and Altria even know who we are), I am inclined to think that what is legal to sell to the public should be legal to advertise to the public. (Still there, trolls?) Of course, that leads to questions about what should be legal to sell (including how it should be legal to sell it), which in turn leads to questions about free choice, Big Brother, etc., etc. Let’s not tackle it here. In the immortal words of the prolific and deeply profound sage Anonymous, “It ain’t that simple.”
Hopefully this bit of surface-scratching has made a few of you think. Since I had to do it, it’s only fair.