Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Just for frauds and morons?

Is it just me, or is Just For Men's Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing series of TV spots one of the tackiest and most intellectually dishonest ad campaigns ever to run on network? The hook here, if you haven't seen the ads--which unfold to the backdrop of the sweet-natured, eternally hummable Marvin Gaye R&B classic--is that when you use their new True Color formula, women assume you never had any gray hair to begin with. With hair color this natural, see, they can't tell! Therefore, your hair becomes--this is JFM's argument, now--"the real thing." And so, by extension, do you.

By that logic, I suppose, if I'm a woman and I get a really terrific set of saline breast implants that succeed at fooling my dates, then my artificial boobs have magically become "the real thing." But why not take it a step further? How 'bout if I'm a world-class con artist and I manage to conjure a persona that fools everyone. I guess that would make me the quintessential "real thing," huh?*

Note to Just For Men: Something doesn't become real merely by virtue of being a great fake. A good lie is not the same as the truth. In fact, one could plausibly argue that JFM's campaign is an insult to the very notion of authenticity. I could go on and on about the implications for certain self-help types and their programs, but SHAMblog readers are a clever bunch, and you already know where I'm going.

* You may be thinking: Wait a sec, Steve. These guys didn't always have gray hair, so JFM's product is merely restoring them to their original condition. But the point of the ad--stripped of all other diversionary tactics--is that you can fool people this way. You can make the babes think you're younger. If that's the case, is it also OK if I get a beautifully forged birth certificate that says I'm only 38? Cuz after all, I was 38 once. Right? Or--since I used to have money at one time--is it OK if I photoshop myself a new bankbook that says I'm rolling in dough?


RevRon's Rants said...

Kind of a stretch here, IMHO. We all do things to make ourselves more attractive, which could, I guess, be considered deception. And those who sell the goods could be considered party to a lie. But I (and all those around me) would much prefer that I deceive them by using deodorant than to offer them the absolute "truth!"

Unlike the self-help hucksters, at least the purveyors of physical enhancement products actually offer something whose result is somewhat quantifiable and, for the most part, relatively harmless.

And while I object to breast implants for health reasons and because I perceive them as an overly radical response to a questionable fashion trend, women with implants actually do get bigger breasts. Might not be what they originally brought to the table, but then again, neither are the people who use cosmetics, fake tanning products, clothes cut to hide flaws & accentuate assets, etc.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I hear what you're saying in both comments you've made this morning, and while I agree that I took the low road on Vitale, I'm not backing off here. Yes, people prefer if we wear deodorant--but there's a difference between wearing deodorant and contending that you're the kind of guy who never sweats in the first place. You get my drift? My objection to the ad is the use of the "real thing" motif in the construction of a lie! I'd have no problem with the ads if they were done with sort of a wink and a smile. But the message--have you seen the spots, btw?--seems to be that if you're good enough or crafty enough in creating a false impression, you then have license to claim that the false impression is, in fact, the truth. "You in your natural state." If the ads said, more or less, "This product will enable you to deceive even the most discerning woman," that'd be different. That's not what the ads say. The ads want to play it both ways, as if you should feel perfectly comfortable in presenting a false you as the true you. It's like a woman who's wearing makeup who denies she's wearing makeup, or a woman with a tanning product who claims that it's her natural, unadorned skin color. That's my objection.

RevRon's Rants said...

I guess we differ here on what level of deception actually constitutes a lie. A woman who wears makeup well can actually look like she isn't wearing any. Does integrity demand that she announce to any observer that she is, indeed, cosmetically enhanced? I don't happen to think so, any more than I feel morally compelled to announce that without the antiperspirant I use, I would small like a wet dog. Some things can, IMHO, simply go unsaid without constituting a moral lapse.

My perspective is that implying that a product makes one look natural is not an invitation to moral turpitude, but rather a promise that the observer will notice the user, not the product itself. And I don't have a problem with that.

Of course, there are extremes that I feel would cross the line. For example, a male transvestite who is sold an outfit, based upon the claim that it will make him the "woman he knows he was meant to be." In a case like this, both the purveyor and the customer are participating in a deception that has the potential for real harm (such as that special moment when a date discovers that the "woman of his dreams" is really the guy of his nightmares). But in such an extreme case, the customer is every bit as culpable as the seller.

Other, less extreme cases, frankly fall beneath my radar, and do not constitute "matters of consequence" to me. But to each his / her own.

Steve Salerno said...

I fear that I have not made my point clearly, despite all the verbiage. My gripe, Ron, is less with the woman wearing the makeup or the man wearing the deodorant than with the ad campaign that (gleefully) encourages a notion that's already all too deeply ingrained in our culture: that if the deceit is complete enough, it is no longer deceit; it is truth.

By definition, hair color is not--and cannot ever be--"the real thing..."

Maybe you think my point trivial when we're talking cosmetics or hair color, but you might have a different reaction if we were discussing, say, WMDs in Iraq. It's one thing for the *individual* to perpetrate a deception, whether the subject is hair color or nuclear warheads. It's quite another thing for an institutional voice (be it the gov't or the manufacturer of the hair color) to sponsor and promote deception by saying, in effect, "if you are absolutely positive that you can get away with the lie, then it's OK to present it as truth." Would you give me that much? Or no.

Steve Salerno said...

I thought, in contrast, I might mention the old campaigns (for Clairol?) whose tagline was "only her hairdresser knows for sure." See, inherent in that statement is an "admission of guilt," if you will. They're saying, "Yeah, we all know it's fake, but the bottom line is, you'll look pretty damn good. Wink." That's very different from what JFM is doing.... Where does a company get the cojones to use the concept statement "AIN'T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING" in promoting a NON-real thing?

Cosmic Connie said...

True confession: My tan, when I have one, is fake, and my hair color is too because I can't seen to make up my mind whether I want to be a brunette or a redhead. Also I started going gray in my twenties and I'm not ready for gray yet. But everything else is real, LOL.

I have seen the Just For Men spot and it makes me roll my eyes. (It's a step beyond the "You, Only Better" campaign that one of the hair color companies directed towards women not too long ago.)

Of course, the JFM ad campaign is just another symptom of our youth-oriented culture. I don't see that reversing any time soon, unless the baby boomers are able to convince the marketers to start touting gray hair and wrinkles as being sexy.

And even though metrosexuality is supposedly out, the advertisers aren't about to abandon a potentially lucrative market. So they're going to keep advertising hair colors and cosmetics for men as long as the guys are buying it.

Steve Salerno said...

In the category of "Me...only less...."

I just got a phantom/sniping email from some anonymous somebody that reads as follows: "Get off it, Steve. Your hair is thinning."

Strikes me as a non-sequitur, though it's also sorta funny in the context of this discussion. (And, sadly, true.)

RevRon's Rants said...

"(be it the gov't or the manufacturer of the hair color)"

Here's where we differ, Steve. An ad campaign for hair color is promoting a relatively insignificant deception to feed one's vanity. An ad campaign for a ludicrous "perfect thyself and thy life" is promoting a delusional system that can impede one's real personal growth. And a campaign by the government to delude the citizenry into believing that a supposed enemy has nuclear weapons can result - and has resulted - in a significant loss of human life.

To me, there's a world of difference. I don't give a rat's behind if someone feels the need to color their hair, but when I see people being emotionally and spiritually imprisoned as a result of buying into a false dream, it gets my dander up. And when I see that tens of thousands of lives are being lost or destroyed in response to a government's deception, it makes me livid. It's all a matter of degrees, and I'm hesitant to get all fired up by something that I perceive as inconsequential when so many are falling victim to what I perceive as a truly heinous pattern of deceit. I guess we each choose our battles. :-)

Rodger Johnson said...

I've got the funniest story from college. A friend of mine started growing facial hair, but a good portion of it was grey.

In fact, with a full beard, he looked like a walrus. Anyway, we (some of the guys that I hung out with at IU) teased the holly shit out of him. We "suggested" Hair Color For Men.

It turned his facial hair and unnatural, flouescent orange.

He thought that a beard would make him look older. It maed him look MUCH older, and the "new-and-improved" orange tint made him look like a bafoon.

Anyway, to make a long story short, he didn't get any (and I'll keep it clean, but you get the jest.) for weeks. His girlfriend couldn't look at him straight-faced.

After a few weeks of walking around campus with an orange beard, she shaved it on night after he passed out.

The point is that we should just accept ourselves in our own skin, be happy with that, maintain and keep what we have healthy, and get on with life.

Steve Salerno said...

It's interesting to me that even those who more or less "sided with" me, or at least took an allied position (i.e. Rodg), still didn't focus in on what I saw as the core issue here. See, I could care less about individual people who want to fool me with their artificial makeup or hair color. I just don't think that advertisers should promote lying in such a way that implies that it's accepted in the culture and even "not a lie at all if you're really, really good at it." That strikes me as a dangerous cultural message--no matter how innocuous or trivial the realm at hand. That's all. But no one seems to be picking up on that (or maybe I'm still not saying it right), so I'll let it go and consider this post a washout.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. "Washout" is the wrong word, because of the quality of the feedback. I guess "misfire" is closer to what I mean, since in the end I'm the guy who failed to sell it....

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
In my own case, it isn't that I failed to focus upon the core issue, but rather that I disagree as to whether it's always an issue at all. Advertisers try to sell products, and they use some manipulation - and even subtle deceit - to do so. Watch the movie "Crazy People" if you want a spiritual uplift! :-)

I only think it becomes an issue when the "product" being sold has a potentially significant and detrimental effect upon the consumer. If someone is dumb enough to believe that by using a certain hair color, they'll be universally thought of as a natural blonde, and that believing as much makes them happy, big deal. But if someone believes in and "buys" a product that causes them to squander their spiritual or emotional energy, or participate - even by silent acquiescence - in actions that destroy lives, that is, IMHO, definitely worthy of our concern.

Cosmic Connie said...

I don't think I missed the core point either, despite the relative shallowness of my response. While I agree with you, Steve, that advertisers sometimes stoop to shameful (or SHAM-ful) depths to sell their products, I pretty much accept it because that is what advertisers do and have always done. They are going to milk all of our insecurities, hopes, dreams and fears for all they're worth.

Or, if they're really clever, they will play to our belief that, unlike the majority of our fellow humans, we're somehow above all of those insecurities, hopes, dreams and fears. Volkswagen's new Passat campaign, highlighting "the lowest ego emissions" of any car on the market today, is a case in point.

OTOH, like the Rev, I think we should expect something far better of our leaders than crass exploitation of our fears -- especially if that exploitation results in the deaths of thousands of people. But maybe it's a bit too much to expect utter honesty from advertisers. Sure, we in the US have various government agencies to protect us against the most blatant or harmful examples of false advertising. Beyond that, we're on our own.

I think I am in agreement with you, Steve, that it would be nice for advertisers to take a higher road more often, or at least a more humorous one. (Well, actually, I would like US TV to allow the type of humorous but often racy commercials enjoyed by viewers in Europe, the UK, Australia, etc., but I see little hope of that either.) At any rate, advertisers will only change their tactics when companies discover that consumers have quit buying the products because the ads are offensive or ineffective.

And hey, Rodg, it's good to see you back on the blog.

acd said...

I agree with Steve on this one. It's not only a matter of how it would "nice" if the advertisers would take the high road. As a collective group, these types of advertisements have much deeper ramifications in our society. Despite how illogical the message of an ad may seem to many of us, there are still plenty who buy into it. These people then absorb the same mentality of the advertisements. As Steve said, the notion of deceit becoming truth if it is convincing enough is "already all too deeply ingrained in our culture." Ad campaigns such as those for JFM encourage that way of thinking, and I believe that can indeed have a significantly harmful effect. It's just like self-help seems at first--innocuous on the surface--but once you really examine it, there are deeper and more troubling effects than one originally thought.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Steve. Though deepy opposed to lying and dishonesty on any level, when I first read his blog post, I dismissed it as an oversensitive response to a typical ad campaign. But then I thought, "Wait a minute--these people are encouraging lying, and I'm accepting that as business as usual. That means I've already been corrupted." Good catch, Steve!

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, anonymous, thank you. That was my bigger, overriding point, and I wish I could've made it as simply, and as well: If this stuff doesn't register, it means the damage has already been done.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, I acknowledge that I have been corrupted. :-) I never thought of Steve's post as oversensitive; I have just reached a level of cynicism where I do accept these advertising ploys as "business as usual." That's why commercials such as JFM make me roll my eyes, but they don't particularly upset me.

However, some interesting points have been raised by Steve, acd and anon. Are integrity and advertising mutually exclusive these days? How successful would an ad agency be if it were committed only to creating more "honest" ad campaigns -- perhaps even incorporating that commitment into their mission statement if they had one? (I hate mission statements, but I realize they are part of the business world these days.)

If enough people raised a stink about the type of advertising Steve protested, maybe the companies would take notice and would demand something better from their ad agencies. They do respond to pressure; look how the "new wave" of feminism that began in the early 1970s changed the image of women in commercials. (Yes, I know the advertisers have frequently gone too far in the other direction now -- making men look foolish, etc. -- but the point is that advertising does change in response to pressure from consumers.)

I guess folks who are bothered by JFM and similar ads have several options. They can ignore the objectionable ads and go about their business (that's my tactic). They can write to the "investor relations" departments on the web sites of the companies that run the bad ads. Or they can start their own ad agency -- but then the challenge would be to convince companies like Clairol that there is a "better" way.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Despite how illogical the message of an ad may seem to many of us, there are still plenty who buy into it."

Yeah, it would be nice to impose integrity standards, so even the idiots wouldn't be deluded into buying that hair coloring for all the wrong reasons. As in every other instance, however, it's impossible to idiot-proof anything, because they'll just come up with better idiots.

Sorry, but I just can't manage to equate an ad campaign for hair color with something as destructive as pushing a foreign policy that causes people to die. But I'm one of those who felt that lying about sex wasn't quite as dastardly as lying about the alleged presence of nuclear weapons.