Monday, 23 March 2009

College Elections Show Best of Trite Advertising

It’s election time on campus. While nobody is quite sure what student presidents actually do, a number of candidates are still eager to reach out to their fellow students and shamelessly beg for the opportunity to do it. On its own, of course, this holds no interest for me. What caught my attention was how many of the candidates, without any training in advertising, have instinctively employed tried-and-true advertising techniques. 

If It Worked for Him…

Most common are those ads whose creativity comes from plagiarising previously successful campaigns. This year, of course, the primary source is Barack Obama, although use of his slogans appears to be limited to students who can claim some degree of ethnicity. The most notable of these are two black students, one of whom promises “Yes, we will,” while another, whose posters feature an image of his face on a coin, asks, “Want change? I’ve got some.” Meanwhile, a Greek student employs the “change” motive in a number of posters such as “Change our student government,” and “change our rights” (one of these rights being a place to relax and even sleep -- a pointless promise since they already have the lectures for that).

I Tell You Three Times

The next most-common advertising method is the simple proclamation: “I am the best.” This is the fall-back position for several of the candidates, although like the real-world counterpart ads, they neglect to provide us with any particular reason for believing in their superiority. “You want the best, vote for ____,” reads a typical sample, or to be honest, pretty well all of them. While “I’m the best” may be an honourable tradition, it’s boringly limited.

The Concept Ad

One candidate has embraced the concept ads popular among agencies promoting high-end purchases, such as luxury cars, perfume, and wrist watches. These generally consist of an artsy photo taking up most of the ad space, coupled with vague copy that seems to say something, but actually doesn't. In this case, a close-up of part of the candidate’s face fills half the poster while the copy asks various life-style questions such as, “Do you want more empowerment?” 

The Snake Oil Cure 

One of the great drawing powers of the snake oil salesmen was their promise to cure every problem facing humanity. One candidate in particular has embraced this style with gusto. Among her many promises are: a student study space (which they already have), a campus radio station (which is financially impossible), and a student-owned book store (which is downright scary).  

Now I’m not faulting the students for their lack of creativity in their campaigns. What disturbs me is that, with only a few minor changes. they are virtually indistinguishable from the kind of advertising that clutters up so much of our media, both in print and online. 

When amateur ads by semi-literate students appear so similar to professional ads by established agencies, it may signal that we’ve got a problem in the industry.