In today’s technology-based world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe anything you see, whether it be a visually stunning scene from a movie, TV show or advertisement. Trick photography, computer-generated imagery and advanced editing technologies all make it easy for people to fool the public, whether for entertainment purposes or false advertising.
Optical illusions have been a welcomed addition to modern entertainment. Almost every studio picture since Star Wars has capitalized on the benefits of CGI, and all to the benefit of the viewer. False advertising, on the other hand, is not a welcomed trend though it has been around for far longer. Hair growing elixirs, medical tonics and other bottled miracles were popular items for swindlers to peddle. The salesperson would demonstrate the product’s wonderful effects on a volunteer from the audience, which had no idea that the person was actually in cahoots with the salesperson. The fact that these teams of con-artists went from town to town, staying just ahead of the news that they were cheats, is what allowed them to be so successful. Thanks to mass media and regulations that hold swindlers responsible for their actions, magical tonics, for the most part, have gone the way of the covered wagon.
Modern product demonstrations are often difficult to believe since so many of them are misleading or exaggerated. So why then, when it’s so easy to show amazing product results accompanied by tiny, illegible disclaimers, do some businesses spend the time and money to shoot actual product demonstrations? One thing is for sure—it’s not because the actual demonstrations are cheaper or easier to film. In many cases, the actual demonstration is purposefully elaborate and dangerous, which helps prove that the product is up to any task. Paying to shoot ads in remote locations and hiring engineers and stunt persons is usually going to cost more than using computer-generated imagery.
In this article we’ll take a look at how product demonstrations broke into TV and how the advertising industry has evolved them.
Evolution of Product Demonstrations on TV
Product demonstrations have a major impact on consumers’ perceptions and, if presented properly, can be great selling points so long as the product actually works. It’s hard for many of us to think about product demonstrations without thinking about the classic commercial where the construction worker uses Super Glue to bond his hard hat to the underside of a girder, letting the world know that Super Glue was not to be taken lightly. Another famous commercial that changed advertising was the Ginsu knife ad that first introduced lines like “But wait, there’s more.” and “How much would you pay?” to the world. If a knife can cut through a tin can and still be sharp enough to cut a tomato into paper thin slices, it must be great, right? That was the concept behind the advertisement and, much to the chagrin of late night TV-watchers everywhere, the concept was so successful it is still being used today.
After the Ginsu knife ad took off, other brands began copying their gimmicks and catch phrases. Because most products being sold on infomercials are incapable of matching the Ginsu knives’ amazing feats, infomercials have become notorious for using misleading product demonstrations to move merchandise. Because customers order these products over the phone or internet, the companies are not part of a community and therefore are rarely held responsible for the quality of their products. Their business model assumes that most people aren’t going to bother asking for a refund on their new mop if they bought it at 2 a.m. for the low, low price of $19.99 and have to ship it back to the company at their own cost.
As misleading as infomercials often are, they don’t compare to the outrageous events shown in CGI product demonstrations. To be fair, viewers aren’t supposed to believe that the CGI ads are real, though many still do. In the last few years there has been an increase in trick advertisements involving athletes. Nike produced ads showing the unbelievable feats athletes could perform while wearing their shoes or cleats. One such ad showed Kobe Bryant putting on a pair of Nike basketball shoes and jumping over an oncoming Aston Martin sports car. Another Nike ad showed international soccer phenomenon, Ronaldinho, juggling a soccer ball and repeatedly bouncing it off the top goal post from very far away. The idea with these types of ads is to wow the viewer and associate the brand with the things exceptional athletes can do. Of course, not all CGI ads are sports-centric. Toyota ran ads showing one of their trucks, the Tacoma, miraculously surviving catastrophic events that would utterly destroy any car or truck in real life. Using CGI, one ad shows a Toyota Tacoma being attacked by the Loch Ness monster while another shows the Tacoma surviving a meteor blast. Obviously these ads weren’t intended to be believed; they were making an exaggerated point about the toughness of the Tacoma.
On the next page we’ll look into the ways in which companies use actual demonstrations to advertise their products.
Actual Product Demonstrations
When the product being advertised surpasses all consumer expectations, the best approach a company can take is to use an actual demonstration to prove the value of their product. Top paper towel and toilet paper brands will often do comparison demonstrations to prove that their brand has superior absorption. Of course, they rarely mention the other brand involved in the comparison which allows them to choose highly inferior competitor products, making their brand seem that much greater by comparison.
Comparing your brand to another is definitely a great way to prove the value of your product, but if what you’re selling is truly amazing, then an actual product demonstration is a highly effective way of advertising. The Oreck vacuum is a great example of a high quality product that wowed viewers simply by showing what it is capable of doing. Anyone who has ever used a vacuum cleaner knows how frustrating it can be when you have to roll over a piece of lint twenty times before it gets sucked into the bag. Being able to lift and hold a 16-pound bowling ball is not a common trait for a 5-pound vacuum cleaner, so why not show that to the world? That’s exactly what Oreck did and their ad campaign was amazingly successful.
Another example of an actual product demonstration is the set of ads run by Toyota for one of their trucks, the Tundra. After questioning truck owners, the ad creators discovered which aspects of a truck are most important to those who drive them: power, braking, acceleration, stability, and towing. Since the advertising agency knew that this campaign was going to have multiple ads, they came up with a long-term plan. They chose to give each ad a similar feel by shooting them in rugged locations, using highly dangerous actual demonstrations and involving seven simple machines: the inclined plane, wheel and axle, lever, pulley, wedge, and screw. What followed, however, was something that Toyota did not expect—many people questioned the legitimacy of the demonstrations. Even though ‘actual demonstration’ read across the screen in each ad, the demonstrations were done on such grand scales that people doubted their validity. Even if someone was willing to believe that a truck could accomplish the tasks involved in the demonstrations, many people found it unbelievable that an automaker would go to such great lengths for a commercial.
The viewers’ standpoint was fairly reasonable considering what the Tundra demonstrations actually showed the truck doing. The ads displayed the Tundra braking on a dime at the edge of a cliff, hauling a 6400-lb. shipping container up a 180-foot cliff, and exhibiting wonderful braking and acceleration while hauling loads of 10,000-lbs. or more. Sounds pretty unbelievable, right? Luckily, Toyota had the foresight to invite members of the community to watch the filming of the demonstrations and sign affidavits attesting to the honesty of the camera work and the legitimacy of the demonstrations themselves. Some actual product demonstrations look honest enough but utilize trick photography or other sneaky methods to make the products look better than they really are. Because affidavits are signed under oath in front of a notary, they are legally-binding documents.
So, if your product is capable of wowing people in any way, a great approach to advertising is to simply show the world what your product can do.
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More Great Links
- "Engineering an ad." Machine Design.http://machinedesign.com/article/engineering-an-ad-0110
- "Toyota Tundra put to the test." The Inspiration Room. http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2007/toyota-tundra-wrecking-hammer/