Documentaries in Advertising: True or False?

Documentaries are well respected in the film industry for capturing an aspect of truth or reality. In advertising, however, telling the truth is like swapping “morbidly obese” with “round-ish”. So how well can a documentary-style ad tell the truth without compromising brand image?

You be the judge.

In 2008, we saw the advent of CP B’s Whopper Virgins”. Their brush with burger virgins from Thailand to Transylvania captivated millions and many advertisers have followed suit. But some would argue these “whopper virgins” would have been just as satisfied with an egg salad sandwich.

Fast forward a year-and-some later, and documentary-style ads are sweeping the award shows. The latest being Coke Zero, for their spot titled “The Swap courtesy of Spain’s McCann Erickson. In the spot, innocent coke-drinking-movie-goers are duped when it is later revealed on screen that their regular Coke had actually been swapped for its zero calorie counterpart. Fury ensues. The spot shows many people sipping with smiling faces, but makes light of a staggering number of people who asked for a refund.

Other Cannes 2010 winners included BBDO Toronto’s for Pepsi Co.’s Tropicana, and DDB Stockholm for Volkswagen’s campaign.

Most recently Match.com announced plans for a 2011 campaign entitled, “Going the Distance”. Devised by Mother (London), a series of unscripted ads will be cut from a documented six-week journey that follows a young couple as they travel across the UK “in search of the secret to long-lasting love.” Spoiler alert: It involves a web cam. And what better platform to display unscripted mayhem than the Superbowl. Hyundai’s 2011 Superbowl blitz will feature a series of unbranded spots for the “Snap Out Of It” Campaign which centers around a mass attraction for a compact car. Look for at least two of those spots during the big game.

Here’s the part where I give in a little. Thetruth.com’s anti-smoking ads like Memorial” have tickled me in the past mostly because they help emphasize a point that is widely ignored. Ie. People die from smoking. And partly because at the end of the day, there’s nobody in the backroom counting receipts. But after all these attempts at displaying reality, one has to ask: Does documentary-style advertising really tell the truth? Or just romanticize a highly criticized industry?

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