There's a fine line between news and advertising, but now it seems our news outlets are willing to trick us into believing what we read.
By Ben Bull
Published November 05, 2010
I sent my friend Phil a YouTube clip the other day. It was a scratchy hand-cam affair: An old lady is crossing at a Stop sign. Quiet residential street, bright sunny day. The road is clear. As she shuffles across you hear the loud squeal of car tires. Then a bumper emerges, stopping inches from the old Gran, engine revving impatiently.
The old lady freezes, then hoists her handbag high in the air and smashes it into the car bumper. Bang! Poof!
As we peer inside the car we see the air bag deploy, the owner splat back, then slowly unpeel himself from the rapidly deflating balloon. The man emerges from the car and throws his arms out in disgust. The old lady ignores him and shuffles away.
It's a great vignette, a cool clip: Revenge!
After Phil saw it he emailed me back: "It's fake. Stop being so naive. Nothing is real."
Phil used to work in advertising - graphic design. He knows all about cropping, colouring, how to wield an air brush - how to market an illusion rather than anything we might actually need.
His work has impacted his outlook on life. He told me one day, how much he hated the James Bond movie Casino Royal.
"Why?" I asked him, after declaring it the best thing since Goldeneye.
"Because of all the product placement," he replied.
I told him I hadn't noticed. He told me to watch it again. So I did, and he was right. Omega, Sony, Ford ... there's even a cameo by Richard Branson at the airport!
While product placement and phoney web clips are annoying, false advertising is far more sinister. Hamiltonians are all too aware of this delusion. As part of the 2010 Hamilton municipal campaign, Mayoral candidate Larry Di Ianni placed a cleverly crafted 'article' in the Hamilton Spectator (October 19, page A15).
Readers could be forgiven for thinking the advert was real. Another Di Ianni missive showed a photo of one of his backers, a retired police officer - but the photo was an older shot of him still in uniform. Subtle.
Then there was the "leaked" Di Ianni campaign poll press release, eagerly lapped up by the Spec. How is this news?
My friend Phil is right. I am a little naive. But it's hard not to believe most of what you see and hear.
The other day I was browsing The Mirror online when I saw an article about how to make $8,000 a month from home. The headline was lined up next to all the others:
It indicated the woman was from Toronto, so I thought I'd check it out. When I clicked on the link, I was taken to a career information website, 'Toronto Career Trends. WS Daily 6' featuring banners from NBC, ABC, CNN and the BBC. It looked impressive.
The article detailed the story of a 'remarkable' Mississauga mother who had found an easy way to make thousands of dollars - right from home! The piece was written by one of the career publication's journalists. It all seemed very interesting and, well - real.
There were even comments posted below it. "The timing of this couldn't be better, my wife and I are struggling too and this could be our answer." Said one. "Thanks for the info, I look forwards to receiving the Fedex tomorrow!" said another.
So much enthusiasm!
As I read more of the comments my Spidey senses started to tingle: "I just got my first check for $2800.00! How cool is that it took about two weeks for me to get the first check.
Pretty soon my suspicions were confirmed: "This is amazing! I wish I knew about this five years ago." Yeah, right.
Not so subtle, some of you may be thinking, but - hey! They had me for a moment.
Why would a reputable newspaper be posting these links as news items? And shouldn't there be some sort of disclaimer so I can easily distinguish between real news and advertising?
Of course, when I smartened up I realized The Mirror is probably mapping my IP address and placing Toronto based advertising on their 'news' page. Clever.
There's a fine line between news and advertising. We've talked on this site about the current newspaper model, which sells eyeballs to advertisers instead of news to readers. Now it seems our news outlets are willing to tease us even more, trick us even, into believing what we read.
Who knows how far down this road we'll go?
One thing is for sure: We need to be careful what we read, be careful what we believe. For myself I will try to always remember the cynical adage of my advertising friend: nothing is real.