“More Bullshit in More Places”

In quainter days, there used to be debate over how to police corporate advertising. How should we protect ourselves from the more obvious lies while also preserving freedom of speech, to which even assholes are entitled?

This concern is, like so many other remnants of the concessions our overclass once had to make, no more. These days, the biggest corporations blatantly lie in their mega-million-dollar marketing campaigns, and nobody so much as sniffs.

Case-in-point: The “More Bars in More Places” campaign now being run by AT&T (…formerly Cingular, formerly AT&T Wireless, formerly AT&T). As reported in the September 3, 2007 issue of Advertising Age, this familiar dose of product propaganda is double-bullshit.

To wit, regarding the first level of jive:

“After spending a big chunk of its massive $1 billion budget bludgeoning the American public with the message that it has the “fewest dropped calls,” the nation’s No. 1 carrier is changing tack. AT&T will still run its humorous ads showing hapless callers trying to wiggle out of embarrassing situations after their phone call cuts off in midconversation, but it will quit making the claim.”

The reason?

“Could it have anything to do with unconfirmed reports that competitor Verizon Wireless pressured it to change following independent studies that showed the claim wasn’t exactly accurate?”

The response by AT&T?

“the new tagline…’more bars in more places’ — …designed to ‘re-emphasize the coverage issue as opposed to dropped calls.'”

In other words, after its corporate rival (not any public watchdog, such as the long-moribund FTC) disproved its massively-promoted (and hence at least somewhat publicly believed) claim that its service is somehow better than the notably pathetic state of all other cell carriers’, AT&T simply shifted that same claim onto slightly different ground. Instead of saying it drops fewer calls, it now ignores that (false) claim, and promotes the idea that it’s instead better because you can get calls through “in more places.”

But is THAT claim true? Nope. Per Ad Age:

“Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst, Enderle Group, called the AT&T’s fewest-dropped-calls claim ‘hard to believe.’ The carrier, he said, ‘has the reputation of overloading the network so consumers get a bad experience.’ So will the ‘more-bars’ claim resonate better with the public? It may, said Mr. Enderle. Consumers ‘equate bars with satisfaction and quality. It might work if people believe it.’

“Consumer Reports doesn’t. In its 2006 telecommunications survey, which was conducted last September and tallied the surveys of 42,000 readers, AT&T, formerly Cingular, had average or worse scores for dropped calls in the 20 cities it surveyed. As for ‘more bars’ or, as the Consumer Reports survey put it, no service,’ Cingular also was rated as average or worse in each city with the exception of Dallas, where it was rated better than average. One headline on Cingular’s claim in the issue containing the report was: ‘Fewest dropped calls? Sez who?'”

All this lying has, of course, drawn no public notice, to say nothing of the punishments that might have been contemplated in earlier days. And, according to the latest (September 11, 2007) issue of Ad Age, AT&T is massively expanding this campaign of conscious bullshit.

The punchline of all this intentional fraud?

“(Oddly, after each spot [in the latest AT&T campaign] makes its visual and verbal coverage claims, a disclaimer appears: ‘Coverage not available in all areas.’)”

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