George Graham

How Long Will Advertising Work its Magic?

I spent some time writing ads, and to tell the truth I didn’t know much about the products I was supposed to be selling. I simply imagined the products as I would like them to be, imagined consumers using those perfect products and told their story. It was a kind of romantic fiction, and it was fun.

I bet that’s how everybody does it.

Who in their right mind would tell the truth about some run-of-the-mill cereal, or whatever, if they were trying to persuade you to buy it?

Can you imagine a commercial in which the father comments that the cereal tastes pretty much like any other brand of oat flakes, and the mother says well, dear, what did you expect, oats is oats… And the kid pipes up and says how much sugar the darned thing contains, how bad it is for teeth, and how it’s been shown to increase your chance of developing diabetes?

Of course not. Nobody would put something like that on the air. Not if they were hoping to sell you their cereal.

You know that. I know that. And we both know there’s no way of telling whether Ivory Soap is 99.4 percent pure, whatever “pure” means.

So why does advertising work?

Why does it matter that the Supreme Court ruled corporations can spend as much as they like on political ads?

Who believes a word in those ads, anyway?

Beats me.

I thought Rachel Maddow was going to burst a blood vessel the other night when she showed how Mitt Romney’s gang edited videos of President Obama’s remarks to make them mean the opposite of what he was saying.  She was understandably outraged; decent folks don’t do stuff like that. 

But doctoring tapes is as old as Rachel – older even – and hucksters do it as a matter of course. I don’t think Mitt Romney expects you to believe him, anyway. Everything he says seems to be tongue in cheek. I bet he runs that stuff to drive progressives like Rachel crazy and make his base chuckle.

I am baffled when I read about the effectivenss of political advertising. I know the ads are focus group tested and loaded with the latest psychological tricks. But surely, by now everybody in the developed world knows they should believe half of what they see and nothing of what they hear?

Surely, the voters in Wisconsin won’t be swayed by the fact that Governor Scott Walker is outspending his Democratic opponent 25 to 1? Surely, they know Walker should be recalled, regardless of anything his ads might say?

In our house, Republican political ads just make us mad. And they make us even more determined to vote for President Obama and the Democrats.

I imagine Democratic ads provoke the same kind of reaction in Republican households.

I can’t imagine any of those ads changing anybody’s vote.

But apparently they do.

And  as long as people let advertising sway their opinions, the rich will run the government; democracy will be in remission.

And Americans will eat sugar-loaded cereal, lose their teeth and get diabetes.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for