Oh, How Times Have Changed

Ads in present day society are certainly very different from older ads in a number of respects. Advancements in technology alone creates a much different feel. Even the language has changed drastically. Advertising techniques that were effective 40 or 50 years ago would not have the same impact today. I decided to delve into the topic of how advertising has evolved through the years. Lego is a classic toy that almost everyone remembers playing with in his or her childhood. Lego was founded in the 1930’s in Denmark. The name “Lego” is derived from a Danish word that means: play well. An early Lego commercial (from the 1950’s) can be seen below.


This ad definitely seems to be more educational and informative than typical ads today. It is very focused on outlining the purpose of Lego and the type of things you can do with it. Due to the limits in technology, they really had no choice but to rely more on language. They were not able to present the ad in colour, and they did not have the flashy animations that we have today. A lot of this information was also conveyed through the use of direct assertions, which are statements about reality. At one point, the voice over states, “build hotels, animals, people, boats, skyscrapers and more!” A lot of the information in this ad is conveyed through a song about Lego. This song is quite slow moving and the words are clear; you have plenty of time to process the linguistic information. There was also some repetition in this ad, which is characteristic of educational messages. It was mentioned more than once that Lego is used “one by one.” I wonder whether the educational style would still have been prominent in advertising at that time if technology had permitted them to use more persuasive techniques (e.g. flashy graphics etc.).

This is an ad from 1991:


It is actually relatively similar to the ad from the 1950’s. It is even presented in a song format. However, the song format has changed. This commercial shows more of a rap style, while the 1950’s commercial used the tune of This Old Man (Knick-Knack Paddy-Whack). The language has changed as phrases like “word up” are used, which you would not find in the previous commercial. This ad also seems to focus less on showing how to build Lego “one by one” and mostly shows the kids playing with fully built Lego creations.

In the more current Lego commercials, there is definitely a greater focus on visual elements and animation.


In commercials like this one, the Lego characters are animated so it looks as though they have facial expressions (in some ads they are even animated to look as though they are talking). In this Lord of the Rings Lego commercial, there is even a brief animated battle scene; it is not just a kid moving each individual Lego piece or character. This ad seems to move in a more persuasive direction. There are a lot more visuals, moving images and fast editing.

The final ads that I would like to discuss are print ads. The first is from the 1970’s, and the second is from the 2000’s.

old lego

new lego

Both ads focus on Lego and the imagination, but they do so in very different ways. The earlier ad focuses on language. Its reads, “more than just a building toy, LEGO makes anything your child’s mind imagines, anything his hands build.” The very popular ad from the 2000’s conveys basically the same message, but no text is used. Instead, it is more of an implication. It implies that with Lego, you can create anything by using your imagination. I also think this is a fairly strong implication that is likely to be consistent across audiences. This progression through the years really shows that today we rely less on explanatory language in advertisements. Fewer things are explicitly stated, and we allow the audience to draw their own conclusions in order to create a more memorable experience.

Do you think that our purchasing behaviours would be different if all ads today were more educational than persuasive? Really, it is the massive amounts of advertising that we are presented with these days that makes persuasion necessary: it is a constant fight for out scarce attention. I feel like people today don’t have the time, or don’t want to expend the mental effort to analyze an endless stream of language heavy, educational ads. In a world of too much choice, are we less educated about the products we purchase?









Deception, or Just Bending the Rules?

While casually browsing through a magazine, this ad from Dove caught my attention:


Now let’s play a little game. Can you spot the two asterisks in the text above? How about the fine print that these asterisks are referring to? Look closely; they’re hard to spot.  This can be a tricky business.  A reader whose attention is not focused or who has not expended the effort to engage their mental faculties might miss them altogether. If you couldn’t see them, I don’t blame you. The picture quality of this ad isn’t exactly ideal, and even when staring at the original advertisement, it took me a moment to find them.  The caption at the bottom reads: “This test paper shows how Dove is different. After a few minutes, soap strips the paper similar to how it strips your skin’s moisture*. With ¼ moisturizing cream, Dove doesn’t strip your skin like soap can.” The fine print being referenced is vertically typed at the bottom left corner of the advertisement. It reads, “over time with regular use.” After reading the fine print, I began to wonder whether there were elements of deception in this ad, or if I was just being hyper vigilant. I decided to investigate further.

First of all, let me share exactly what my problem is with this ad and its fine print. The predominant text in this ad reads, “soap can strip the skin’s moisture*” and “after a few minutes, soap strips the paper similar to how it strips your skin’s moisture*.” It seems to me as though this ad is implying that this effect of moisture stripping is almost instantaneous (for both the paper and your skin). Then when I read the fine print (“over time with regular use”) my perspective completely changed. The second asterisked sentence above begins by stating: after a few minutes. Was I the only one who didn’t realize that this time frame only applies to the first part of the sentence? Also, who knows what is meant by over time with regular use? They certainly don’t specify. Does over time mean a week? A month? A year? How about regular use? Does that mean once a week? Once a day? Twice a day? Based on the evidence presented in the ad alone, it doesn’t seem as though this ad is drawing off of scientific evidence. So where is this data coming from?

I decided to conduct my own informal survey in order to discover whether I was the only one who thought this ad was deceptive. I randomly selected 10 people (out of a group of coworkers, friends and family) and showed them this ad. I asked these participants to pay close attention to the asterisked information. After they were done reading, I asked whether they found this ad deceptive; 4 out of 10 said yes. This was not the overwhelming support that I had hoped for, but at least a small portion of people agreed with me.

If I had to specify exactly which clause of Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) this ad contravenes, I would say Clause 1 Accuracy and Clarity:

(a) Advertisements must not contain inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to any identified or identifiable product(s) or service(s).

(d) Disclaimers and asterisked or footnoted information must not contradict more prominent aspects of the message and should be located and presented in such a manner as to be clearly visible and/or audible.

In this case, the issues with this ad seem to be fairly subjective, so it is unlikely that it would be withdrawn from circulation. Either way, it is an excellent practice to look out for deceptive advertising.

Another thing to watch out for is the feeling of truthiness. Truthiness is a feeling you get, rather than a rational conclusion you draw based on ample evidence that you have carefully processed. If you don’t devote enough time to examine this ad, you might see it and think, “Oh, this looks like results from a scientific experiment that shows that Dove is better. Next time I go to buy soap, I’ll pick up some Dove.” But really this is just a feeling based on the appearance of impressive evidence in the ad. It doesn’t actually say anything about scientific evidence, or something being scientifically proven. Additionally, in this brief glance in which the feeling of truthiness is accepted, the asterisks might have been overlooked, and therefore a chunk of information is missing. Whether the deception is subtle or blatantly obvious, your mind can be fooled, especially if you are not paying attention and rationally processing all of the information you are presented with.



Chatelaine (March 2013)