It’s no blinding insight that advertising often resorts to, ahem, a selective presentation of facts to make its case. So do we all, every day, in our dealings with others. Freshly blown-out hair and artful make-up are a selective presentation of the facts. Your resume is a selective presentation of the facts. That guy’s picture on match.com is a selective presentation of the facts.
We live in a world of truthiness. We know our mileage may vary. We know prescription drugs have all sorts of side-effects. We get it. But there are instances in advertising, as in life, where the presentation is so utterly, fantastically deceitful, so at odds with “the facts on the ground” as the generals say, that even a lard-ass, narcoleptic failed blogger is roused to protest.
Seen this ad?
You can’t have missed it. AT&T, which was seeing big share gains against Verizon Wireless purely because of its exclusive iPhone offering, was knocked on its ass when Verizon Wireless started its “We have a map for that” counter-terrorism surge. “We have a map” isn’t going to win anything at Cannes this year, but it’s tearing a new one for AT&T by reminding everyone of a simple truth: AT&T’s coverage sucks. That they appropriate and pervert Apple’s “We have an app for that” to deliver the message just makes it nastier and more memorable. And the visual comparison of Verizon’s coverage, blotting out the entire map of the United States except that place in Idaho where the Unabomber lived, to the hollowed-out emptiness that is AT&T’s coverage, is incredibly powerful.
So how did that anemic coverage schematic grow into the vast orange, sea-to-shining-sea coverage map in AT&T’s ad?
They lied. Not in the “We can grow your penis overnight” way of low-life, unregulated advertisers. Because AT&T isn’t a corner hustler. It’s a big company, with a big legal department. So they did it the old-fashioned way: in the fine print.
As a service to readers in their baby-boom years, and to young ‘uns who read digital newspapers, let me bump it up a few point sizes, make it nice and big so you can read it:
“Map depicts an approximation of outdoor coverage. Map may include areas served by unaffiliated carriers, and may depict their licensed area rather than an approximation of their coverage. Actual coverage area may differ substantially from map graphics.”
“Actual coverage may differ substantially from map graphics.” This is not “Your mileage may vary,” brothers and sisters. This isn’t even Glen Beck on a bad day. This is lying, corporate style. For shame.