Honest Advertising - Some Attractive Incentives

In at least fifty years of media advertising that I have been aware of, I have rarely recalled seeing TRULY honest advertising messages or images. Every company KNOWS that they need to be more persuasive than any competitor, which is a tremendous motivation for exaggeration or even outright lying. A hundred-twenty years ago, there were Snake Oil Salesmen who claimed that the liquids they would sell from a wagon could cure everything from stupidity to hair loss, and they were always watched by most of the people of each town, and they usually collected a lot of money in selling such products. Advertisers ever since have known the economic value in such lies, exaggerations and distortions.

Advertisers today still are aware of this and they still make great efforts to include exaggerations and distortions in all their advertising, although they now generally tend to not make claims which are lies which might be proven in Court, for two reasons. One is to avoid having to pay significant Fines and for the Lawyers who defend them from having to pay even larger Fines. The other is that when the Public sees in News broadcasts that a company had clearly and obviously lied to people, everyone, some customers might get distressed, which might affect their future bottom lines.

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So what is generally done today is to exaggerate as much as they can and then have their own Lawyers try to determine whether or not they might be Sued over False Advertising. So there is an enormous 'dance' by essentially all manufacturers, suppliers and products and services to create advertising which is as close as they can manage to what might be illegal, and that is therefore all we ever see!

Actually seeing an HONEST AD is incredibly rare in recent decades!

I think I have an idea of how to improve this situation!

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Imagine having a Non-Profit Organization which was willing to pay out $1000 cash to the first person who alerted the Organization to any ad which was 'clearly intentionally misleading'. There would be a second category of $500 cash payments to the first person who alerted them to any ad that included 'gross exaggerations'.

I believe that more than a hundred million Americans would be VERY interested in receiving such cash payments, which would cause EVERY TV or internet ad, every magazine or newspaper ad and every billboard, to be 'examined with a fine-toothed comb' by hundreds or thousands of Americans, for any deficiencies regarding Truth and Honesty!

The Americans would 'file their Reports' in a web-site, which would therefore create a Date Stamp on every Report, to establish which person had sent in the FIRST Report regarding a specific ad or product.

A Jury of maybe 20 (impartial) citizens would examine the Reports which would come in regarding any product or ad or company. Such a Jury would first try to determine whether there was actually a sufficient shortcoming regarding truth, deception, honesty, distortion, etc to be considered for awarding such a cash award. Once that was established, then the various Reports would be examined for both Timeliness and actual reference to the problem regarding honest advertising. This last would be to avoid people who would certainly be Filing thousands of Reports on every new ad, with the intention of beating everyone else by a few seconds to receeive the $1000. A Report which could receive the Award would have to have CLEAR reference to a problem with honesty or distortion or exaggeration, and a paragraph that would describe the details of the problem.

ALL advertisers would rather quickly start creating FAR more honest advertising! The negative publicity of news Reports showing people receiving cash awards due to their own questional advertising would obviously be seen by the public, and would certainly damage their profit making! The POINT of their advertising efforts is to INCREASE their profit making, and as soon as it became obvious that questionable claims in their ads would clearly come back to bite them, they WOULD be much more careful in creating all future advertising!

This Non-Profit Organization MIGHT be financially supported by Grants from companies which would want to be seen as supporting honest advertising, say maybe $10,000 gifts. The effect of such gifts toward INCREASING THEIR sales and profitability would likely be far greater than the cost of the gift. It probably would also create greater increases in business than if they had spent that $10,000 to create and air their own ads!

Support might also come from citizens who might want to support such a project, or from wealthy Philanthropists who would see that the project would create wonderful benefits for society!

An example of a potential subject advertising program to look into is this one. During 2012 and 2013, there have been thousands of TV ads for a company called OkinawaLife. In general, the one commercial which is always displayed is much like the many other advertising which present products or programs that claim to enable weight loss. But the entire basis for this commercial's credibility is supposedky a '25 year study' by a Japanese Doctor about the elderly people of Okinawa. A very careful listening to the commercial, hundreds of times, I became focused on a peculiar fact. The supposed Doctor says the name 'Okinawa' twice during the commercial, but both times he says it WRONG, saying 'Okina' instead, somehow neglecting the entire last syllable! I started wondering how a Doctor could have spent 25 years on Okinawa doing a Study, and still get the name of the island wrong!

This question caused me to try to confirm that the name given for the Doctor was actually an actual Medical Doctor. But I was unable to find his name in any Japanese Medical Organization (or any American Medical Organization, either).

I realized that there MIGHT be a different cause for the 'Japanese Doctor' saying the name Okinawa wrong. It could have been that in Japanese, the name of that island happened to be stated as three syllables, Okina. I have tried to investigate Japanese sources, but have not found any evidence that is the case.

I realize that advertising companies feel extreme freedom to alter facts in advertising, all the way up to the chance of being sued for false advertising. So, with the apparent evidence that the 'Doctor's' name does not show up as an actual Doctor in either Japan or the United States, AND the fact that he apparently mis-says the name Okinawa, I now suspect that the 'Doctor' was probably never a Doctor at all but probably some actor out of Central Casting! Such an actor might accidentally misstate the name Okinawa and his name would not appear anywhere as a Medical Doctor.

I recognize that my observations do not necessarily challenge the validity of the actual product being sold. But if the reality of 'the Doctor' was not true, then doesn't that seem to bring into question whether the '25-year Study on Okinawa people' ever occurred, or whether its alleged results included what the advertising claims. In other words, indirectly, possibly the ENTIRE basis for the claims of that product being sold???

So, we have been repeatedly told that Okinawa elderly people eat two very peculiar foods plus soybeans, and the commercial is very careful to legally distance itself from any 'actual legal claim' that you would live to 100 years if you buy their products, they certainly IMPLY such a claim very aggressively.

My specific point in referring to that specific commercial is that it seems to strongly appear that there are several specific areas of deception presented, and it is hard to see that any of them are actually confirmably true!

I might mention another example. A few years ago, we Americans were daily inundated with endless advertising about 'Restless Leg Syndrome'. There had never been any reference to such a Medical condition in the history of Medicine, yet we suddenly were seeing dozens of impressive TV ads about it every day. Of course, the ads always included a 'solution' for this 'condition' as being the Pharmaceutical product which was promoted in the commercials.

Those 'Restless Leg Syndrome' ads ran many thousands of times on all major TV networks for several years. You may have noticed that they then disappeared, and there are no such ads on TV any more. Do you want to know why? It turns out that there was NEVER any actual Medical Condition called 'Restless Leg Syndrome'! One of the giant Pharmaceutical companies had not made as many billion dollars of sales (and profits) from a DIFFERENT drug they had been advertising, but were then still on warehouse shelves. And so the Pharmaceutical Company Executives thought up the idea of inventing a new Medical condition, where they might be able to sell the billions of dollars of OTHER products which they wanted to sell (but hadn't been able to sell due to smaller market). So they DREAMED UP the 'Restless Leg Syndrome' and spent millions to create impressive commercials for TV!. They even paid many people (probably actors) who claimed to be Medical Doctors, to talk in those commercials, where they freely made up endless LIES which probably seemed credible to elderly people whose legs sometimes moved (possibly to actually be due to effects of Parkinson's or other actual conditions).

Whether those speakers were actually Medical Doctors or not, I never checked, but in any case, the ENTIRE BASIS for the alleged need for the medication that the TV commercials presented, was totally deceptive and essentially totally lies!

When advertisers (and Pharmaceutical Corporations) feel free to intentionally DECEIVE all viewers, without being answerable to anyone regarding honesty or ethics or morals, WOW! It seems to have become so totally rampant that virtually every TV ad seems to contain at least SOME deception and even lies. The ONLY limitation seems to be regarding whether the Corporation doing the advertising thinks it might get sued for false advertising! Anything less than that will get past that Corporation's own Lawyers, and we will be presented whatever impressive claims that the Corporation thinks might cause YOU to spend money for their products or services! Actual truth or honesty seems to never been considered any more!

Here is another example. Some company manufactured a sort of small stationary bicycle, and figured out a way to sell millions of them to people who hope to lose weight! So they got Dorothy Hamill (famous ice skater from a few decades ago) to sit on it in a TV ad. The voice over described that it 'burns up 500 Calories per hour' (and so everyone should run to the phone to place their orders). Any decent scientist could calculate that Ms. Hamill was certainlly burning up no more than 50 Calories per hour with her gentle pedaling. Doesn't ANYONE see it wrong to actively and intentionally DECEIVE millions of TV viewers with an outrageous claim of 500 Calories per hour? And yet that company WILL GET AWAY WITH THAT, for YEARS, and millions of people will BUY the devices they are hawking! For the record, any serious scientist can confirm that even INTENSE WORKOUTS in a Health Club rarely 'burn more than 100 Calories per hour! And even world-class Marathon Runners only burn up around 100 Calories per mile! It certainly would be slick if a housewife could burn up 500 Calories per hour as claimed in those TV ads, while casually reading a magazine! But the human body simply cannot do that!

There are THOUSANDS of examples such as these just presented here, which we see as important to confront and to try to 'reel in'. We think that IF advertisers are allowed to use the 'public airwaves', then WE THE PUBLIC should be able to insist that advertisers should not be allowed to totally and continually deceive us every day! We do not see that Congress would ever even consider invoking any restrictions, as many Congresspeople would scream that such actions might 'restrict a Corporation's profits'. We finally concluded that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY to try to get advertisers to start using any truth and honesty, than in THIS approach, of INVITING ALL VIEWERS to mention their concerns about whether any advertising might be untrue or deceptive. The primary purpose is NOT as 'punishment' but instead of simply 'letting the Corporations know that the Viewers were intelligent and alert'.

Our ultimate hope is that nearly all advertisers will begin to INCLUDE TRUTH and HONESTY in all their advertising, but when one happens to focus on deception or dishonesty, the PUBLIC UPROAR over being deceived might be so great that such an advertiser would quickly learn NOT to try to trick the public again!

In August 2013, a very small restaurant in Fuzhou, China, decided to try a different approach to 'encourage people to be honest and reputable'. They do not have Menus, and Patrons eat on the Buffet system of serving themselves from various choices made available to them by the restaurant. The very unique thing about that restaurant is that they never Bill the Patrons! Each Patron is supposed to 'determine the value of the meal and pay accordingly into a lockbox.

A wonderful idea, and one which is intended to 'let every Patron have the chance to demonstrate their honesty and integrity'.

Sadly, by December 2013, the Manager of the restaurant has said that he has been disappointed by the cashflow being too low to support the restaurant. He still has hope that more 'high-integrity Patrons' may start coming in. His restaurant has certainly gotten the attention of the 4,000,000 people who live in Fuzhou, and so it is certainly possible that enough quality Patrons might start eating at his restaurant. I hope his idea works out!

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in November 2012.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago