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Articles > Deceptive Advertising

Understanding television advertisements and the dishonesty behind the marketing strategy of deceptive advertising

Don’t be Deceived by Deceptive Advertising
by Glenn Becker

If you are old enough to remember the Cold War, you may recall the contrast between the news of the free world and the propaganda of the communists. The real purpose of propaganda is to control the thinking of the reader, so that he does whatever those who created the propaganda want him to do.

The Cold War is over, and the truth of freedom defeated the lies of communism. Yet Americans are subjected to a flood of deceptive propaganda that is just as harmful as the worst of the Cold War. We call it “advertising”. Those who create advertising often do not care whether the ads are informative, nor do they care whether it is in your best interest to buy their product; they care only about getting people to buy something they otherwise would not and perhaps should not purchase. Their goal is to manipulate you.

For example, I saw an advertisement for a “SmartBuy” on a popular SUV. In very large type, it promoted a surprisingly low monthly payment for such an expensive vehicle. The purpose of this advertisement is to deceive a person who cannot afford this high dollar vehicle into thinking he can. Three years later, when the agreement expires, he will suddenly discover that he never could afford it. The terms require that he pay a huge balloon payment, or turn-in the vehicle and pay a fee for each mile over 10,000 per year, and pay for every little scratch and ding. Of course there will be lots of them—why would anyone get a rugged SUV just to drive it only on paved streets?

Look at cosmetics advertisements: they show retouched photos of unreal people with unrealistic poses wearing unwearable clothes to get you to believe that, if you buy their product, you will somehow look like the model, or at least feel like you do. They are depending on you to help them with their deception by deceiving yourself. Many people willingly cooperate.

Our award for the most deceptive advertisement goes to one that shows a sexy young woman wearing a skimpy negligee with bold copy that says, “Time to get back into the game.” This is followed by the name of a divorce lawyer. I could spend hours counting the deceptions in that one.

The most subtle deceptive ads are the ones that deceive you into thinking that you need something that you really only want. The Federal Government cannot protect you from this kind of deception because God never intended them to. They can eliminate ads that are proven to contain false promises, but the very best liars know how to manipulate and/or deceive without the deception being detected. Please do not think that this is a slam against the advertising industry—it is not. They themselves are deceived into believing that their purpose is to maximize sales rather than to serve (be a blessing to) both sellers and buyers.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NIV). To know the truth means to hear and accept a truthful message, which requires a truthful messenger. Jesus promised that God would “give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16). He does not plaster his message on billboards, nor does he interrupt your TV programs to force you to listen. But He will speak if you ask Him to. Each time you think of buying something, the Holy Spirit can tell you whether this is something God wants you to have. God does not just provide for your needs; he also gives you some of your “wants”, but normally not all of them. If you are not sure, just ask Him. After some practice, you will learn to hear God’s voice when you consider a purchase, because God wants you to. When you know the truth, it is easy to spot the lies. In fact, they become ridiculous, because they no longer have any power over you.

It is ironic that advertisers spend years in school and many more years on the job to learn the subtle art of manipulating buyers; yet you can learn to overcome their art in a very short time, using a simple communication method that most of these professional communicators will never understand. God uses the simple things to confound the “wise”. His Word, the Bible, provides over 2,000 scriptures that relate to wise use of His resources. Let’s tune-out the manipulative ads and tune into God’s success manual.

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