Idiocracy: The Death of Intelligent Advertising

This is a guest post from Office Newb Jacqui Tom.

As a career blogger, I often receive emails from businesses asking me to write about their products or services. Usually these companies are small web-based start-ups that are looking to get free exposure on the internet, so I was surprised to receive an email from someone representing Deloitte Consulting asking me to share a video they had produced to entice prospective employees.

Deloitte is one of the one of the top auditing firms internationally and I’m sure that tens of thousands of the top students from top business schools around the globe are dying to land a job there. With such prestige and resources at their disposal, I was flattered that they would bother reaching out to a meager blogger like me to help market them–that is, until I actually watched the video.

Centered around the company’s “Born to Consult” theme, the video follows several job candidates, all young, all head of the class at top-ranked universities, through their interviews at Deloitte. The catch is that the interviews are conducted by a twelve-year-old boy who grills the candidates with such demanding questions as,

“How many ping pong balls can you fit in a 747?”

“Would you rather have a head twice its normal size or half its normal size?”

“Do you get the team pizza or Thai for lunch?”

For two minutes and thirty seconds I got to witness candidates responding either in bewildered earnest or thinly veiled frustration. They didn’t understand why they were being interviewed in such a way, and frankly neither do I. The most successful candidate seemed to be your classic frat guy who initiated high-fives and literally acted like a monkey. Is this the kind of person Deloitte is trying to hire? If I interview at Deloitte will I be asked questions about the price of nougat in China by a twelve-year-old?

What exactly is the message they are trying to send here?

I often ask myself the above question when watching advertisements on television today. Whatever happened to talking about the product you are selling? When did advertisers stop trying to appeal to us on an intelligent level?

Noam Chomsky, famous MIT professor, claimed during a speech in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in January 2005 that

“the main purpose of advertising is to undermine markets. If you go to graduate school and you take a course in economics, you learn that markets are systems in which informed consumers make rational choices. That’s what’s so wonderful about it.”

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In a perfect world, advertising would be utilized by consumers to make intelligent, rational choices about which products to by or services to use. But in an effort to stand out from the competition, many advertisers are now turning to so-called “shockvertising” and it online companion, the “viral” video. Characterized by surreal fantasy, these ads can encompass anything from a man in a chicken suit dancing around his living room (aka Burger King’s Subservient Chicken) to the “No Stank You” public services ads warning kids about the dangers of smoking by showing them dancing on giant, smoke-stained, rotten teeth that are floating in space.

Huh? Are consumers so impressionable that they can be influenced to by a burger based on a man in a chicken suit rather than a picture of the actual burger they intend to purchase?

Apple’s long-running Mac ads are a great example of how advertising can be both cool and smart. The backdrop is a simple white background, the product highly conceptualized (represented by “Mac” and “PC”) and the message delivered primarily through dialogue and the occasional sight gag. The products are never shown per se, but the two hip representatives actually talk about the product and tell us what it can do. They represent the product’s simplicity, edginess and capability, which appeals to Apple’s elite core users, those “smart” enough to look beyond what everyone else is using.

What I want to know is when did we as consumers abdicate our responsibility to judge a product based on its merits?

Does this signal a decline in the intelligence of our population? Or is our appetite for the bizarre a side-effect of years upon years of constant media saturation? I’m not sure. But I do know that I’m saving up to by myself a MacBook for Christmas.

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Jacqui Tom is a young professional working her way up the corporate ladder. Launching her career with a series of internships at America Online (AOL) and Amazon.com that helped her learn the ropes of the internet business, she now works as a web writer for a Seattle non-profit.

Her blog, The Office Newb, offers a newcomer’s perspective of office life. Typing furiously from her cubicle, she shares lessons about life, business and everything in between.

Feel free to contact Jacqui at officenewb at gmail dot com

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.