30% Less Fat – The Powerful Nonsense of Advertising

I’ve always been fascinated – and entertained – by the wit, tricks and deceptions of ads, and their steadily increasing power to make people buy ideas and products. “Deceptions” are different from lies, and both are rampant. For example, New Balance shoes have been popular for years among older people where I live; I wear them too. No doubt their popularity is increased by the catch phrase ‘Made in America’. This is a straight out lie; they’re not made in America!

There are many brands of foot wear that are made America, listed in this All American Org website devoted to pushing American products of all sorts. But New Balance isn’t one of these. What’s more, the company somehow managed to Trademark their false slogan!

Aren’t there federal laws against deceptive advertising? Yes, that’s part of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a large and complex agency that includes many programs. It governs ads of every sort, and in every form of media, as outlined in this section of their site. My impression is that FTC just can’t keep up with so many liars and cheats, operating around the world and adversely affecting countless people. The internet is everywhere. Being a naif old person, I was sucked into a scam 3 years ago by people whose accents and writing style suggested India. The money I lost was a big sum – equal to a year’s income for many poor and needy individuals.

Costs of ads differ enormously. Generally, the greater their influence on target audiences is likely to be, the more they will cost, and conversely. Perhaps the costliest commercial ad campaign ever, focusing on one topic, was the 2023 Super Bowl. Putting together sources such as WSJ, Statista, and VOX’s Sports Blog Nation, I found that broadcaster Fox Sports charged up to $7 million for a 30 second spot, the day of and during the game. But in effect, the entire year before Super Bowl 57 took place, it was hyped by Fox News.

Approaches to marketing vary as widely as its costs. Generally speaking, these are: ‘Comparative’, ‘Informative’, and ‘Persuasive’ forms. Few ‘Comparative’ ads refer to another product directly, although some – e.g. Walgreens and CVS- will add to their labels, e.g.,  ‘Compare our Acetaminophen to Johnson and Johnson’s Tylenol’. More often, the comparison is not stated. E.g., what does Hershey’s mean on the label of their Simple Pleasures chocolate bars, that says ‘30% Less Fat’? Less than what? A can of  Crisco? Would you be inclined to eat Burger King’s ‘Satisfries‘, which contain ‘40% Less Fat’ and ‘30% Less (they meant ‘fewer’) Calories’ ? Their biggest competitor is the much larger McDonald’s chain. The Dawn brand Antibacterial Hand Soap promises us ‘50% Less Scrubbing’ (with an almost invisible asterix and note ‘vs Dawn Non-concentrated Dish-washing liquid’. What a bizarre comparison. And all this time I’ve been using it on my dishes!

Not surprisingly, ‘Informative’ ads give facts about their products, to convince us to buy them. As said before, lying directly is illegal. Steinway pianos are the best, so they benefit from telling the world. Toyota is very trustworthy and popular. So providing stats on their fuel efficiency, safety features, and resale market value helps their sales.  ‘Informative’ are quite straight forward; so let’s go back to the topic of slogans.

Across the Web a common slogan is ‘Recommended by Doctors’, or ‘Recommended by Physicians’. What physicians? Or how about ‘New look; same great product’? Who says its great? It could be lousy. By contrast, here’s a slogan known around the world coined by a group from Weimar Germany – The BAUHAUS organisation:  Less is More.  Bauhaus was a whole movement in modernist  architecture. Its primary spokesperson was Ludwig Mise Van der Rohe (That wasn’t his birth name), who emigrated here in 1937, after closing Bauhaus in Germany.

Taken by Spyrosdrakopoulos&action

‘Less is more’ makes a kind of sense when we know the context and application. Bauhaus made a very big mark on chicago architecture, in Chicago, and other US cities, and  wealthy countries world wide. Today, Chicago’s architecture is famous as well – not only for Bauhaus and other foreign influenced and imported styles, but for what its designers have done. They have brought pride to our Third Coast city, especially for their variety.  Think of Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham and Helmut Jahn – another engineer and artist, born (1940) in Germany, and died (2021) in Illlinois.

Chicago got ‘on the map’ in the World’s Columbian Exposition held here in 1893. Over 27 million visitors came 46 countries around the world, including ours. Thats equivalent of the current population of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin combined.

Mies’ influence is strong in the design of Lake Point Tower Condominium shown here, finished in 1968. Two students of Mies at IIT designed it, based on one of his designs for a glass skyscraper done in Berlin, but never constructed. At 70-stories, the curved ‘Y’ shaped residential tower was once the tallest condominium building in the world and also the tallest reinforced concrete structure. Real estate being so volatile today, there’s  talk and push-back about plans to convert condo units into rental apartments. Many rich and famous  have resided there.

I’m personally interested in architecture because my father was a builder and contractor who started his carreer at Penn State. My oldest brother was a builder as well, and also an engineer. I did hourly wage work for him on some very expensive homes, designed by modernist architects, influenced by Bauhaus, and by earlier designers, like Philip Johnson, and Frank Lloyd Wright. I also spent several years as a volunteer docent, leading tours for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. While  training for that post, I studied Daniel Burnham – another famous Chicago architect, who happened to belong to the same church I do, and grew up in the town where I now live – Glenview IL.

Less Is More is logically impossible. Yet once we know the context, it’s meaningful.  But would anyone want the motto ‘More is Less’? That would be ridiculous! Everybody wants a memorable slogan for their business – whether a major corporation, a non-profit, a school, a religious group, or even a single person websites (like this one). In fact there are websites too that will suggest them for you. Popular names in the food industry have trademarked catch phrases that burn into our memory, like it or not: Jays Potato Chips – ‘Can’t Stop Eating ‘Em‘; Frito-Lay ‘Betcha Can’t Eat Just One’; Pringles ‘Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop‘.

Speaking of good food (and bad), in a Google  search, I found the phrase ‘You Are What You Eat’ in millions of ads. Literally it’s nonsense. Not even a cannibal is what he eats (unless he’s munching fingers). However, there’s a very well-written discussion of the phrase ‘You Are What You Eat‘, from the Australian ABC Net. It takes the theme from a historical and cultural perspective on the ethics of our food habits. We might be reminded of Roman orgies where feasters induced vomiting so they could eat and drink more; whereas the Greeks wanted to build character by disciplining their bodily desires. And of course we could add the environmental impact of our consumption of plants, fish, birds, and every kind of beast.

Everyone is interested in money, so that interest provides a very large market for clever ads and slogans: e.g., job hunting, getting food, borrowing, transportation, insurance, saving, investment, paying taxes, evading taxes, and on and on. Some are in dire straits; others have so much they fret about what to do with it.

Many people are fascinated by the rich and famous – the two generally go together. The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous lasted only a decade, since Robin Leach died. But I’ve no doubt there’s still an audience, whether it be with Opera Winfrey, the Kardashians, Brad Pitt, Taylor Swift, Michael Jordan, or Meghan and Prince Harry (who by the way appeared in court with Elton John onMarch 27, ’23 to sue the Daily Mail for invasion of privacy!) [Reported by BBC news]

With all this interest and need for money, Banks are a huge influence on people’s  lives – sometimes with terrible results. Wells-Fargo used the slogan ‘Together We’ll Go Far‘. When it was shut down for gross corruption, someone quipped ‘Oh, now I understand; they were referring to the upper level managers in the C-Suite’ [These typically include the CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO. Thanks to Dictionary.com Slang]

Wells-Fargo was ‘re-established’ in 2018. Banks of every size continue to have great influence. The largest bank in the US is JPMorgan Chase & Co, a merger (in 2000) of Chase Manhattan, founded in 1799 and J P Morgan & Co, founded in 1871. Their current motto is ‘Value everyone equally. Own up to your mistakes and learn from them.’ Jamie Dimon is currently CEO and Chairman of the Board. He’s well respected and apparently generous with his wealth

International corporations – many of them owned and headquartered in America – have enormous influence on people world-wide. Here’s one I like that isn’t American. I was introduced to it by seeing  the T-shirt slogan Life is Good. It’s a publicly traded, world-wide multi-product conglomerate started in 1947 by a family in Seoul, Korea. The headquarters are still there. It’s well known here mostly for electronics labeled LG. Originally called Gold Star (Korean: Leokki Geumseong = LG), its first corporate leaders remained in one family so far as possible. But the path of ‘inheritance’ wandered through 4 or 5 generations due to many early deaths and lack of direct offspring. I don’t think the family is still represented. Here’s a fun visual introduction to the company.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my view of ads in all their variety. Please use your money wisely!