Where the truth lies: advertising's role in the rise of fake news

The Drum 10 Jan 2019 02:38

Fake news isn’t just something that plagues politics and social media. Its poison has permeated communications, including design and advertising, for years – and may even have originated there.

The “golden age” of advertising and design in the in the 1950 and 60s produced a lot of sparkling, glittery falsehoods that turned heads and opened wallets. I’m not quashing the quality of work in that period – look at the brilliance of Saul Bass, Paul Rand and Robert Brownjohn – it’s just that, in the rush towards creativity, honesty was often left for dust.

Today’s trend towards “authenticity” marks a welcome u-turn on the long road towards showy, false marketing that the communications business was built on for so many years.

In the backlash against fake news, fake followers and the “Insta-sham” life, brands are starting to look back to the days when advertising was about communicating the benefits of a product, with maybe some information about provenance, and the ingredients it was made from. Packaging, too, was more functional; simply a way to store or transport a product and to label what was inside.

Regulations have since been put in place to prevent outright lies, but the seeds of fake news had been planted, and the possibilities of duping people with unproven facts and figures began to infiltrate the mainstream.

It doesn’t take much of a leap to fast forward to fake news, fake maps, and falsehood’s nadir, the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Touching the void of fakery has made us all sharpen up, creating the awareness that forms a necessary step towards overcoming the power of fake.

One thing we know for sure about millennial consumers is that they can smell saccharine and sycophantic marketing a mile off, but they sometimes shy away from the issues around the environmental crisis and the dubious operations of corporations.

Brands that want to survive have no choice but to get real. For our work celebrating 30 years of Canary Wharf, we analysed our client’s archive of articles and interviews, and built up a bank of words that had been used to describe the project over the last three decades.

The “golden era” might have been necessary as a trailblazing period that pushed boundaries and unleashed creativity, but now that we have learned those lessons at the furthest reaches of shiny, shallow consumerism, we need to apply them with honesty and authenticity in the real world instead.

It has made ‘ad men’ about as liked as traffic wardens and trusted even less.

In the words of Hicks himself, ‘quit putting a dollar sign above every person on the planet’.

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Bill HicksCanary WharfCanary WharfSaul BassCambridge Analytica
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