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the author attacks hyperbole in advertising for the millionth time
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

I’m having trouble believing that advertisers think the American public has the collective intelligence of a golf ball.

That’s not entirely true. I have no problem with the idea that if an attractive woman is wearing a dress made entirely of belly-button lint that at least 3% of the American viewing public (mostly women, in this case) will run out and buy that dress. I have no problem with being sold the idea that if I happen to be drinking the right beer a beautiful woman will either a) come over to me and take me back to her place, or b) be so intent on looking at me that she inflicts some form of accidental bodily harm on herself. And I have no problem with ad agencies getting paid millions of dollars to flood the airwaves with commercials based on simplistic, easily identifiable gimmicks, obviously designed solely to scare John Q. Public into thinking that he’s going to look stupid if he admits that Pepsi One doesn’t actually taste to him like regular soda.

What I do have a problem with (note: the subject of the column is coming up – watch for it) is advertisers who have just totally stopped thinking about what they’re saying. These people are so mired in hyperbole and their own egos that they’ve forgotten that what they say should make sense. One would think that with the number of people who analyze, check, re-check, rewrite, poll, plan, and sign off on every commercial, that mistakes like the following just wouldn’t happen. One would be wrong.

And I’m aware that pretty much no one else cares about these things as much as I do. But in the interest of helping everyone become a better writer, even those people who write 30-second paeans to consumerism, here are five of my personal pet peeves.

1) Any car commercial where they say something like, "There’s no car like it!!!" I hate those. What they mean, of course, is "There’s no other car like it." I have to believe that it is like itself. I have to believe that it is, in fact, exactly like itself.

2) I recently saw an ad for a sleeping pill that advertised its best feature was that you could take it any time of night as long as you had at least four hours left to sleep. The side effects, however, included headache, dizziness, and drowsiness. That’s right, drowsiness. I would hope one of the effects of a sleeping pill is drowsiness. Those sleeping pills that keep you up all night never really sell as well as those that help you sleep.

And, as a side thought, how can you tell if the drowsiness is a side effect or not? If I take a sleeping pill and I get tired, I assume that was the primary intended effect. Having my elbows turn blue would be a side effect. Losing feeling in my feet would be a side effect. I just wouldn’t know how I would distinguish something that subtle.

Could be worse, I suppose. A friend of mine told me that he once took migraine medication that warned of possible headaches as a side effect. Wow.

3) My father once heard an ad for a new bathroom spray that made mention of their new "deodorizing fragrance." Uh-uh. A fragrance cannot be deodorizing. A total vacuum can be deodorizing; it gets rid of everything. A new smell can only cover an old smell – and even then, it’s still just a good odor. Duh.

4) Any copy writer who pens a commercial that says some product is "all-new" pretty much should be shot. Simply saying "New" or "Improved" would totally cover it and actually be more meaningful. The kicker here is "all" – it would have to be a never-before seen invention for it to be "all-new." The breast implant, for example, was all-new.

"The All-new Dodge Truck," however? I don’t think so. Unless it is no longer powered by the internal combustion engine, all the chairs have been replaced with some revolutionary new plant, and it floats on a bed of floam, it really isn’t "all-new," is it? Think, people.

5) This might be my favorite because it took me a while to notice. For a Valentine’s Day Victoria’s Secret commercial, they referred to some collection as being "impossibly romantic." Read that again – "Impossibly"..."Romantic." As in, so romantic, it can’t exist. That’s just brilliant. You save up your money for Valentine’s Day, sneak into your girlfriend’s room just to get her bra size (30D – she’s narrow), order her an entire Angels ensemble in all her favorite colors, run up a $666 tab on your credit card, and when an empty box arrives, there’s a little card that reads, "We warned you this underwear was impossible."

I can totally understand this one, at least. I’m sure whoever wrote it had been staring at pictures of the Victoria’s Secret models in their underwear for days at a time, and that kind of thing will just do that to a guy. Victoria’s real secret is that none of the men working for the company has ever had a good idea because there’s no blood going to his brain.

No, that’s not true.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even touched on commercials that misquote famous literary passages, those that skewer English grammar, or those that don’t actually mention the product they’re trying to sell. (Oh, and the ones that compare their product against the leading brand - if they're so good, shouldn't they be the leading brand?)

Anyway, I’m gonna finish up quickly, but the bottom line is this, people: whether you’re a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a writer for a beautifully-designed website, or just a shill for The Man, please at least remember that what you say is at least as important as what you mean. Twenty years from now you don’t want an anal-retentive smart-ass kid like me making you look dumb now, do you? I didn’t think so.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


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published: 8.12.09

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adam kraemer
6.6.00 @ 3:04p

I agree.

davida chazan
6.11.00 @ 3:31p

Very funny. However, no one expects commercials to use the language properly. It is, however, excellent fodder for a column like this one.

adam kraemer
7.5.00 @ 5:21p

Why shouldn't people expect commercials to use proper language? These people are professionals. Besides, do you think kids today learn language skills more from school or from TV?

adam kraemer
1.8.02 @ 10:41a

I'm just conducting an experiment.

michelle von euw
1.8.02 @ 2:23p

Are you trying to up your hit count by posting on your old columns, so they get front page props, and the rest of us will follow, looking for a discussion?

adam kraemer
1.8.02 @ 2:27p

Maybe. I just wanted to see if I'd get any extra hits.

Plus, I was thinking about this column last night because I saw a commercial for some genital herpes medication that came with a butt-load of warnings.

russ carr
1.8.02 @ 5:13p

Is that better than a commercial for a hemorrhoid ointment that comes with a butt-load of warnings?

russ carr
1.8.02 @ 5:14p

I'm so ashamed. This is here to get the above post off the front page.

But Adam, I know the commercial of which you speak. It's in heavy rotation...do they know something we don't?

adam kraemer
1.8.02 @ 5:51p

Oh, yeah. Good thing that post is gone.

I don't know. My only comment to my roommate (the actor) is that at least he doesn't have to get on national TV and say that.

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