Having recently posted about cigarette advertising, some of my readers pointed out that cigarettes were routinely hawked by doctors as being harmless at best, and actually good for you at worst. Here are some of the choicer examples, of which there are hundreds:
Even with all this historical nonsense, my head did a Linda Blair when I saw this picture over at Frog Blog:
I immediately went back to this Dilbert cartoon (click the link for the full-size version):
By the dessicated skull of Mogg’s grandmother – it’s like recommending arsenic to treat the symptoms of poisoning; apparently Dr. Batty (no offense intended to my dear friend in Dubbo) thinks the image of a 7-year-old puffing away on his death sticks would be fine. (“You don’t want to sell me death sticks. You want to go home and rethink your life.”)
Advertisements like this seem impossible in today’s world, but gullibility comes in many different forms. In the olden days, people believed just about anything they saw in print; authority and social validation are still powerful persuasion factors which can elicit the “click-whirr” response in a consumer’s brain. If you’re intersted in how marketers get your money, I recommend reading Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.)
Depending on a person’s level of awareness, however, the concept of “If you see it in the Weekly World News, it must be true” persists.
The parody issue of “The Irrational Inquirer,” published in 1983 by Larry Durocher and Tony Hendra, illustrates perfectly that most thinking people look at the supermarket tabloids with rolling eyes and shaking heads, but there is a segment of the population who buy these rags and actually believe what they contain, simply because it’s in print. “Alien Psychic Boondoggle Cripples Human Scum” is the best headline ever!
Pathetic… yet Americans alone are wasting billions of dollars annualy on bogus cures, nostrums, worthless weight loss products and other remedies, just because they find the information on the Internet.
The number of web pages like this which are out there number in the millions – because there’s money to be made from gullible people. Many of these deceptive ads claim that their products have been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz or others (again, using authority and social validation as marketing hooks) – but just like the snake-oil of old, it’s nothing but bald-face lies. For further reading, you might want to check out my previous post about the Açaí Berry.
Don’t get me wrong – there are countless products out there that do a body good – but my beef is with the deceptive marketing practices and false claims, particularly for products or systems (like tobacco) which science has shown to be harmful.
In closing, I recommend the following strategy for anyone who wishes to make wise purchasing decisions:
The Old Wolf has spoken.