I hear that taxi receipts are going to be emblazoned with advertising soon. In theory, that passes the laugh test, no? For anyone who has ever been handed a mangled 2-inch receipt with blurry ink, it sounds ridiculous. Unless it’s an ad for a better receipt mechanism, we might want to rethink this initiative.
Advertisers for the most part are hitting the right note in placement. The industry has matured and is adept at following (and even predicting) trends. Traditional platforms are still in the game, but new media has prompted creative delivery initiatives. With our hand-held devices, web-based platforms and the like, we are bombarded with new forms of ads. Only the most rural of us leave our homes without entering a technicolor world of advertising. Those taxis about to get the smudgy receipt ads? Most of their roofs are festooned with a large (illuminated) table tent of an ad. Almost all cabs now have advertising (posing as network news) playing on a monitor in the backseat. There really isn’t much to malign about the ubiquity of advertising. If it hurts anyone, it’s the product/client not the user/consumer. How in the world do you make yourself heard above all that noise?
One of the oldest ways to get noticed is celebrity endorsement. Since there were celebrities there was celebrity endorsement. If anyone had thought to market apples, I’m guessing they would have approached Eve. Throughout the years most endorsements and advertisements have been quite obvious. But what happens when advertising not only becomes more ubiquitous but more embedded? What happens when a celebrity is famous for selling themselves as a brand (versus being a performer?) There is a potential for conflict of interest as well consumer confusion.
Let us take a recent example of Paula Deen, a woman whose gimmick has been selling mayonnaise and butter laden dishes. She is a southern woman who got her start making sandwiches for local workers. With no culinary training but an innate understanding of showmanship, she is a perfect example of today’s celebrity brand. She announced her (three year old) diabetes with her drug company endorsement in hand while declaring that her diet has nothing to do with her disease, thereby protecting her brand. When asked on air if she was a paid spokesperson for the drug company she retorted; “I’m compensated just like you are.” Well, not exactly. The newsreader is being compensated by the network to do a good job for the network (and probably to cross promote the network’s other programming.) Not many people watching the show think he is doing it for free. The issue with not declaring (in a big black box) that “Miss Paula Deen is a paid spokesperson for this company” is that we are not the most educated of consumers. Sometimes public health has to trump capitalism. Our country is just getting heavier. Miss Deen has a loyal rural and southern following who may very well be suffering from diabetes themselves. To hear a (very healthy looking) famous person declare that “diabetes has nothing to do with what you eat and if you take this lovely drug like I do there’s nothing to worry about,” is troubling. Miss Deen is allowed to sell whatever she chooses, and the drug company is allowed to hire whomever it pleases. Hence, the black box. The drug company could also do themselves a big public relations favor by prefacing all their messaging with “maintaining a healthy weight is proven to have a positive impact on diabetes management.”
Users/consumers are becoming increasingly inundated with advertising, and may be a bit numb. A million years ago, the novelty of Judy Garland selling Max Factor was so unique the consumer would think; “Look it’s Judy Garland selling Max Factor!” (and most fans knew that Max Factor was the make-up artist for the movie studios.) Now that everyone is famous and ads are everywhere, being intuitively savvy is a challenge. The harm is not to the product or advertisers but to the consumers. Regulating advertising to protect consumers is not new. You may remember when some paperback books had full-age cigarette advertisements. Liquor and cigarette advertisements were once on television all the time. Public health concerns change over time and in my estimation will always trump profit. A simple black box hurts no one, not the product and not the paid spokesperson. All it will do is remind the consumer that they are in fact experiencing an advertisement.