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Honesty in Advertising or: Those Lying Movie Trailers

Ads need to be honest. Of course, ads tend to be selective (making the good sound great while ignoring the downsides), but unless you want to get hit with negative buzz about “false advertising” (or possible lawsuits), you must ensure that you’re being honest in your ads. You don’t want to pull a VW and get sued by the Federal Trade Commission because you falsely claim you have “green” environmentally-friendly diesel vehicles and then get caught cheating on emission tests.


This photo was pulled from the FTC press release.


Some of the worst offenders (not necessarily legally, but in a consumer sense) are movie studios. We’ve all been excited to see a movie after seeing the trailer, only to be horribly disappointed when the actual movie comes out. Sometimes it’s because the movie misled the audience, other times because they put all the good stuff in the trailer.

For Drag Me to Hell, the Sam Raimi-directed 2009 film, the trailer makes the film seem like a very scary horror film (even including the words “the return of true horror”). The problem is, it’s actually a horror-comedy. By essentially hiding all the comedic elements of the movie, no one realized it was partially a comedy (much like Raimi’s earlier film Army of Darkness). Audiences were mad, because they expected a scary thrill-ride and instead got a goofy movie (a goofy movie, not The Goofy Movie). Had the studio been honest in its advertising, it’s more likely people would have gone expecting the comedy bits and been able to enjoy it for what it was: silly horror-comedy fun.


The "true horror" promised doesn't correctly convey the silly goat demons delivered.

Another issue often pointed out is when “all the good stuff was in the trailer.” No doubt you’ve heard this complaint from friends and fellow movie-goers before (or made it yourself). An obvious offender is the trailer for the 2006 film Superman Returns. All of the coolest action shots are featured in the trailer, like Superman getting shot at point blank range and the bullet being crushed when it hits his eye. “Man, if that’s in the trailer, imagine what else that movie does!” However, the movie didn’t do much else,  leaving the viewer feeling like they didn’t get anything new when they watched the whole movie. It’s frustrating to lose 90-150 minutes of your life and feel you got nothing better than what was in the two minute trailer you saw 6 months ago.


The coolest shot in the trailer...and the entire movie.


Movie trailers are an easy target. I’m sure you can list several movies that either under-delivered or flat out lied in their trailers. However, the concept of honesty in advertising needs to be applied to all types of marketing. If you misrepresent yourself, your brand, or your product, and don’t demonstrate value once people actually acquire your services/products, or you flat out lie (don’t lie), you’ll see a strong backlash from consumers (and potentially lawsuits). People like companies they feel they can trust. And if you’re running dishonest marketing, you make it hard for people to believe anything you have to say. You really don’t want your company called out for having one of the most misleading ads ever by a charming British person on YouTube.

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