People think I’m a cynical person. They tell me I always look at the negative aspects of life and dwell on the inadequacies of the situation, the people around me, and myself. I don’t see it that way, but if enough people tell you something you have no choice but to wonder. I believe I have a propensity to see things for exactly what they are. One could understand how this could be a problem for someone whose job is to write how and why a laundry detergent will change your life. The problem isn’t with pessimism; it’s with advertising.
For example, the only way laundry detergent would ever change someone’s life is if, when applied, it teleported you to a universe where laundry didn’t exist. Or killed you.
The point being, we work in an industry that has a tendency to sell promises it can’t keep—a byproduct of faux optimism. Because optimism rarely considers facts and paints with such broad strokes, it’s never rooted in real life. We promise that if you use X product your life will change in a way that extends beyond what the product could ever do. If you buy this car, you’ll impress your boss. If you use this dish soap, you’ll be exactly the type of mom your children need. This toilet bowl cleaner? Well, let’s just say your wife will fall in love with you all over again. This type of optimism is generic, lazy, wrong and is the reason the rest of the world can see right through the sludge we pump into their living rooms, mailboxes and commutes.
Wouldn’t it be more effective to look at things for exactly what they are, find the good/interesting/humor in them, and communicate this in a creative way? Wouldn’t this be more optimistic than lying to get a message across?
First truth: Real life is tedious, beautiful, and a large portion of it is spent doing things out guilt, fear, a sense of responsibility or all three. Second truth: People are weird, habitual, bored, funny and sad enough for unlimited material. Third truth: Your message is boring and the natural tendency to spice it up is to counter the boring with outlandish promises of implausibly deep human connection/life- changing events/tons of sex/wealth/beauty.
Instead of insane promises, let’s draw on real life.
Dish soap will never make you the envy of your houseguests, but it could clean your dishes faster so you had more free time to do what you wanted. This is a message as old as time, but what if “free time” means sitting on your couch, listening to the TV and staring at your phone? Or perhaps you’re a parent and your free time is you driving a minivan full of kids, frazzled and staring into space, wondering what happened to the life you used to have. These are just off the top of my head, and much better ideas would come from people far more talented than I, but you get the point.
A new car isn’t a way to meet women. It never has been; it never will be. And even if this were true, what kind of woman wants to be with a guy because of his car? A terrible one, that’s what kind. The truth is, no one but friends and family know you bought a new car—strangers don’t care, and strangers shouldn’t care. But what if they did, like they do in most car commercials? If that happened in real life it would be horrifying. People you’ve never seen before telling you how impressed they are with your new ride. Women flock to you, men envy you. You’d descend into madness. Chevy runs deep. Now that’s a commercial.
The truth will always be smarter, funnier and more human than promising that cereal will strengthen the bond between father and son, and drawing from the strange yet common elements that connect us will always be stronger than the beer that gets you laid. Then again, I’m probably wrong.