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Is Your Ad Complete Bullshit? Try This Simple Test.

Your Bullshit Laboratory

Most of us grow up with pretty finely tuned bullshit detectors. The thing is, this technology is getting better every day.

In fact, over the years, I think bullshit-detection technology has more than kept pace with computer technology, to the degree that kids today have BS detectors picking up readings as low as one-part-bullshit-in-a-million.

Interestingly, many of these same kids – these wonderful cynical rebels – will, when asked to create advertising, revert quickly to bullshit. They aren’t stupid. They’ve simply grown up listening to all the horrible advertising out there and, hey, when you grow up in France, you speak French.

This is why I ask beginning students to forget every single thing they think they know about advertising and keep only their disdain for most of it. I ask them to be honest and to just talk. Yes, I want them be interesting, to be funny, or dramatic, but to just talk; not bullshit.

As a test, I give students this process, one they can apply to their own work to see if it qualifies as bullshit.

Pretend you’re sitting next to some guy at a bar and you’re talking about the product you’re advertising which, today, let’s say it’s some chain restaurant. And this guy asks you, “So, tell me again why I should go to this place?” You take a big slug of beer, look ‘im in the eye, and you say….

“The flavors of ancient Italy will tantalize your nose and suddenly you’re in Rome.”

This is where he slugs you.  > POW! <

You’re on the floor lookin’ up wondering what just happened. Well, what happened is you decided your bar buddy was an idiot and he’d believe any insipid, bullshit cliché you come up with.

So, that’s my little test.

Look your best friend in the eye and speak your message. Can you say it with the same authenticity and unadorned honesty as you would tellin’ her what the weather is?

If you can, you’re not advertising. You’re just tellin’ someone about this cool thing you heard about. And what’s wrong with that?

Trolls Are Internet Bullies and Cowards.

Interesting sculpture. It's called the "Fremont Troll."

Recently, my friend over at AdLand (aka daBitch) posted a thoughtful essay about the mean-spiritedness of some of the discussions at popular advertising sites.  She wrote, “I’ve noticed an uptick of a particular style of comments recently. There are those who will jump to ‘you are bitter / you are a hater’ retort. Then there’s the ‘What work have you done?’ … retort.”

She was kind enough to ask me for my opinion. Here’s my edited version:

“Actually, the bitter/hater syndrome is not a child of the online ad industry. Everywhere, these people have a term: trolls. You know, those horrible acne-magnets that lurk under bridges in fairy tales.

I’ve done some reading about this phenomenon and if my memory serves, this anonymity is a result of how the internet was originally designed way back when they set it all up. And it is this anonymity that provides the bridge trolls now live under.

My hypothesis is that if you look at the sources of these mean-spirited remarks, 98% of them are posted anonymously. And my opinion is, they are all cowards. The anonymity allows them to spew their vitriol and poison without accountability.  

I think (as do many others) that if you have a strong opinion, you should stand behind it. Otherwise you’re not much different than the mean drunks who hide in the crowd at a football games and toss empty liquor bottles at refs for calls they don’t like.

On the other hand, anyone with personal integrity (and a wee bit of calcium in their spine) will publicly stand by and own an opinion they post, even if it’s an unpopular one.”

Because this is an internet phenomenon, the issue of trolls is in some ways new. On the other hand, it’s as old as the problem of schoolyard bullies. I would call these trolls the “bullies of the internet” were it not for the fact that even the most despicable schoolyard bully does not wear a ski mask.

On a recent page on the troll-packed site of AgencySpy, I saw this thread. We begin with a person who, posting under his real name, defended someone from a personal attack.

REAL PERSON WITH SPINE: “I hate people who write snide innuendos while hiding behind fake names. It will take more than the scurrilous accusations of a couple of mealy-mouthed twits who don’t have the wontons to post under their real names to convince me. [M]an up or shut up.”

We can talk about the unnecessary anger at another time. The point here is, at least this person posted under a real name. Then came the troll’s response.

TROLL HIDING BEHIND NAME OF “BRAZMANIAC”: “Fuck you and your fairytale platitudes.  I have news for you, it’s VERY easy to ‘man up’ and use your real name when you’re sycophantically praising a man you DON’T EVEN KNOW.  Hey, maybe he’ll see your name here, all shiny and sincere, and offer you a job!  Good luck with that.  In the meantime, people who have actually worked with [this person] have a few things to say. … I think protecting ones job and future is an excellent reason to maintain some anonymity.”

And there you have it – the classic, specious, and cowardly excuse.

In fact, this same reasoning can be used to excuse an attack on a retarded person. (“HEY ‘TARDO! Missing your brain?!?) Who would want to hire a person who makes such an attack? No one. Does that make it okay to do it anonymously?

This same reasoning can be used by the skulking drunk at a football game throwing the liquor bottle. He wants to hurt the ref but keep his job.

Bottom line is that trolls do not want to publicly stand by an opinion they have made public. And that is why they are bullies and cowards.

I conclude with three thoughts.

One: If you want to post an unpopular opinion, have at it. Sign your name and we’ll give you our attention.

Two: Opinions are one thing, ad hominem attacks are another. Attacking a person is low, and doing it anonymously is lower still; like being a hallway bully who wears a ski mask, pants the “gaywads” and then escapes in a waiting car.

Three: When we see bullying, we should fight back. This happens to be the NEA’s National Anti-Bullying Month and it’s a great time to do what a brave lady named Jennifer Livingston did. She’s a newscaster who received a vitriolic email telling her to lose some weight. And it is here I ask Mr. “Brazmaniac” and all trolls, bullies and cowards, if you want to see what having a spine looks like, watch this woman stand up to bullies like you.

If I got any of this wrong and you’d like to write to me and disagree, my email is and my name is Luke Sullivan.