This week Karl Rove, former political strategist for George Bush, accused John McCain of going too far in stretching the truth about Barack Obama.
"McCain has gone in his ads one step too far, and sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the 100-percent-truth test," said Rove. "Both campaigns ought to be careful about... there ought to be an adult who says: 'Do we really need to go that far in this ad? Don't we make our point and get broader acceptance and deny the opposition an opportunity to attack us if we don't include that one little last tweak in the ad?'"
Rove brings up an interesting point. Do advertisers bare the responsibility of being 100 percent accurate all of the time? How far can you stretch the truth before it becomes false? Does the information we leave out affect accuracy as much as the information we put in?
Take toothpaste ads. “Four out of five dentists recommend brushing your teeth with brand x.” I am certain that in their polling, 4/5 of the dentists actually did say they would recommend the toothpaste. But how objective were the polls? Had the dentists just scientifically tested several brands of toothpaste? Had they just been given a large supply of samples and agreed to pass them out over other brand samples? Do people buy toothpaste based on what an ad says dentists recommend, or based on what their dentist actually suggests (which could differ from the sample tube supplied at the end of a visit)?
As advertisers, we walk a narrow line. We are tasked with selling a product or service. We have to find a way to stand out amid a saturated market. And we have a responsibility to consumers who expect products to deliver the results promised.
How far can we go to make our product look/sound/be the best/fastest/highest quality? Where do we gain credibility and at what point do we loose it? Do we have the courage to stand up and be the adult in the room who says “Do we really need to go that far in this ad? Don’t we make our point and get broader acceptance and deny the opposition an opportunity to attack us if we don’t include that one little last tweak in the ad?”