Monday, 4 December 2017


For many years I was in a world of strategic hyperbole called advertising. It was a colleague of mine who coined this concept of professional lying. At the time it seemed a bit naughty but not too harmful.

After all no one actually believed Heineken had unique powers in reaching the parts other beers couldn’t reach. We all pushed the letter of the law on behalf of our clients, creating what today could be called fake news. We created false alarms like an imminent salt shortage, very effective in immediately boosting salt sales, and one I was involved in with Energen, the low carbohydrate crispbread, sales of which were hampered because it didn’t taste that nice.

Here was the logic:
Too much starch makes you fat
Most crispbread has 70% starch
Energen only has 30% starch
If you want to lose weight reduce your starch intake
Ask a successful slimmer about Energen

The sales result was astounding.  Ryvita (I don’t blame them) were livid and our Joseph Rank was berated by the Associated British Foods’ Garfield Weston. When the Chairmen of competing companies scrapped that meant we knew we were winning “bigly” (as Donald Trump would say). We created false fears - thus an advertising campaign suggested chicken legs could easily puncture cooking foils not as strong as Bacofoil; that Hepworth’s was fashion that didn’t fall apart. Fashion tick; durable tick; other brands???

But that was then…when we were all in communication-jousts with each other. In advertising we were the human entertaining equivalent of corporate lawyers - we the professional strikers, they the professional referees.

When does satire or hyperbole become lying? When does a strongly presented emotional argument become fake news? At what shade of grey does black become a kind of white?

Pondering on this and other things I was driving last week with my wife over Ditchling Beacon near Brighton. We drove past a series of earth mounds several feet high. To understand what follows you should know my wife regards me as a terrible tease but who can’t stand being teased myself.

“What on earth caused those?” I mused
“Moles” she said
“Moles….they’re far too big for that that - they’d have to be enormous moles”
“No not enormous just quite big - about the size of polar bears”
“Crumbs! Why have I never heard about these “Polar Moles?”
“It hasn’t been widely publicised but it’s these moles that cause sink holes. Whenever you hear about a sink hole the chances are it’s a polar mole that’s caused it”
“These creatures sound dangerous. Are they carnivorous?”
“No but they sometimes drag someone underground because they want their company. Sadly in their affection they smother them.”

I had to stop because by now we were giggling too much to keep this going. The art of creating fake news is the art of storytelling. When we stop telling and enjoying stories and also asking questions we are in big trouble.

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