By Vince Ragay
We have movie and play reviews but how come we have no ad reviews? In terms of time duration and exposure alone, ads top every other media or showbiz phenomena. It’s a multi-billion-peso monster of a business (about P13 billion in 2004) that someday may refuse to be under reasonable control. Its practitioners are some of the most brilliant and clever people around. They have so much clout that corporate entities seem to look at them as power brokers equal only to politicians. They seem to be invisible armchair-generals but their handiwork is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. We can only imagine them grinning on their way to the bank.
Watch any one of those noontime variety shows and you will notice that every bit and parcel of these programs owes its existence to the products that are being promoted. Even the brightest celebrity of the show is there because a sponsor paid for his/her talent fee. Without ads, we would have no major TV networks who will fight over who has the higher ratings.
Lest we forget, ads have surreptitiously invaded movies via product endorsements cleverly inserted in a sequence or two. The most obvious (and obnoxious) is Castaway where Tom Hanks works for FedEx and so he drives a FedEx truck, carries FedEx packages, crashes in a FedEx plane, ad nauseam.
So who reviews whether these ads pass certain standards of viewing for the kids and the audience in general? How come there seems to be no sanctions on indecent exposures and lewd actuations incorporated in these ads especially those endorsing liquor or cigarettes? Does the MTRCB put out classification ratings for these ads like they do to movies? Or shouldn’t there be a minimum standard that considers the sensitivities of a child who probably watches TV way up to 9 or 10 in the evening?
As the consumers, we have the right to decide which products pass moral and ethical standards. Unlike government agencies who have the power to enforce the laws, we only have the force of moral law to depend upon. We can only hope that a critical mass of people will come to make use of their rights and decide what they need to do with respect to these products and their endorsers.
As a start, we will subject particular ads to scrutiny based on certian criteria, as listed and described below:
1. Truth — How truthful are the claims of the manufacturer/sponsor? Are the benefits advertised measurable using scientific or psychological standards? (For example, those graphics-aided shampoo ads showing soft, glossy hair flowing gently in the wind are almost equally the same. The final decision rests on who has the prettiest or most popular model(s) and the most catchy or memorable ad. Songs and dances have become potent tools to keep these products in the consciousness of the public.
But what about the shampoo itself? How do we measure softness, glossiness, fragrance or overall health benefit to the scalp and hair? Who will provide us all these facts? Do we need to try all these shampoos before we decide which to use (which is what is actually happening minus the logical measures mentioned)? In the meantime, we are mesmerized by beautiful ladies with beautiful hair attracting equally handsome men.
In general then, the appeal is based on looks and not on true product value. Whatever health or scientific claims they may have get lost in the visual hype. Packaging overrides the substance.
2. Decency — This is the opposite of indecency which includes exposure of the human body to arouse sexual desire. It can also be the utterance of sexually-loaded words or the the appeal to carnal knowledge, be it an allusion to or direct invitation to have sex. It can be simple acts of seduction or overtly illicit behavior.
Ads of liquors have crossed this line of human decency quite often whether in print or in the optical media. We see a lady in skimpy bikinis dancing lewdly while seducing an obese man to go somewhere to find a drink. And so the fat man swims around the world to get that drink — and the girl, it follows. Isn’t this an open endorsement not just for a drink but a clear invitation for our youth to go ahead, do whatever it takes to have that girl and to have fun.
The psychological pitch may escape some dense people but the clarity of the message is beyond denial. What more, the man utters the hook of the ad which escapes the mind of so many people it becomes laughable they haven’t realized they are being taken for a ride. “Bilog and mundo!” (The world is round!) A clever play with words, if ever we saw one. Scramble the letters of the first word and what he is actuall saying is “Libog ang mundo!” (The world is lust!)
Now, didn’t we say these practitioners are very clever? The ad is not about a drink, It is about seduction, sex and unbridled fun. In the meantime, buy the drink and fall for worldly pleasures.
And all this, we allow our kids to dance to, drink to or while away their time with in front of the TV. Who will protect the public mind against such indecent and immoral deeds and thoughts? Does MTRCB know what’s really happening around us?
3. Values — This does not only include product value, as in getting our money’s worth from a particular product or service. It includes enhancing our lives with products that really work. A car that allows you to save on gas and also provides comfort and safety need not use a pretty girl to sell because it sells itself. All it takes is a respected test driver who can provide the numbers and the instances that the car has proven to be worthy of its reputed worth. (Thanks to Pocholo Ramirez and Epie Quizon for not using the usual girl-and-car formula.)
Many car ads have been some of the finest and most elegant ever seen. They deserve our praise. Still some of them might do well to stick to the basics of truthfulness and not stretch the limits of gullibility by using fantastic graphics reminiscent of Keannu Reeves’ Matrix movies. If we wanted to escape reality, we would go to the movies. We know what a car is for as much as we know what a soap or chocolate bar is for. The really creative person remains simple and elegant.
4. Service to Society — Attention is vital for advertisers. In a matter of thirty or sixty seconds, they must encapsulate so much information and emotional content with one primary goal in mind: to persuade the viewer to buy the product. They must repeat or show the product’s name as often as they need to within that short span of time. And they must also connect that name to a single idea or concept and make that connection stick in the mind of the people.
It is a kind of brainwashing or mass hypnosis they go through everytime they plug in with the public mind.
A lot of good has been served by ads and products which make us aware of dietary and other practical benefits in life. Still, so much remains to be seen with regard to the sincerity of some sponsors. Some come out with inane ads that may entertain us for a while but lose the real intent of their service to society. Yes, they catch the eyes of the kids (watch them pay attention to the ads and turn away to play when the main program comes around) as well as the adults but they do no more than tickle. The products are only out there to sell to kids (through their harassed parents) and not to give parents a wise choice. Ad people brought about the junk food culture, you know. So, there is such a thing as junk advertising.
From this short list, we can begin to subject ads to a closer scrutiny and let the sponsors and the media channels do their part in enhancing our way of life.
We all need one another in making sure our time in front of the TV (cable or not) or the newspaper is time well spent and not just another way of letting some people make a fast buck on our behalf. Most of all, this is our way of developing a culture based on honesty and goodness. Consumer watchers must take more active roles in protecting the rights of the buying public. A regular column that reviews products and ads would go a long way in addressing this need. With so much bad going on around us, a little goodness from sponsors can go a long way toward building a stable future for our youth. Profit is good as long as it comes from doing good. That is not too much to ask.