Back in the 1980s I used to teach a unit on propaganda techniques to my seventh grade students. We would study Edward Filene’s seven techniques of propaganda, then analyze print and television ads to see how these were used. The students would then try to write their own ads using these techniques. Today this would now fall under the standards for Media Literacy, but essentially it was the same thing.
Over the holidays we watched more junk TV than we usually do, and there seemed to be lots of ads for products from the National Collectors’ Mint. This company specializes in private minting of commemorative coins, and their ads are so over the top that they seemed like a perfect candidate for one of these propaganda technique lessons. In particular, I kept seeing ads for this 9-11 commemorative coin…
I’ll say up front that I think this is a tasteless scam. It plays upon emotions and tries to get people to invest in something that is relatively worthless. I think that anyone that falls for this is an idiot, and I find it appalling that there are some many of these advertisements on television – TV Spam. That aside, though, let’s take a look at some of the specific techniques this advertisement uses.
Here are some of Filene’s propaganda techniques, along with several other advertising techniques I’ve found from other sources:
- Exigency – Gotta do it now, before you think better of the idea.
- Transfer – An unrelated positive image is included with the ad with the intent that those positive vibes are transferred to the object for sell. For example, using a pretty woman in a car commercial.
- Free/Reduced – Everyone loves a bargain.
- Glittering Generalities – Words that demand approval without thinking, such as “democracy.”
- Snobbery/Exclusivity – Uniqueness must mean that it’s worth more, plus the snob appeal of being one of a selected few to own the item in question.
- Bandwagon – Everyone’s doing it, so why shouldn’t you? In a sense, this is the opposite of Snobbery.
- Testimonial – Could be authoritative, celebrity, or just plain folks – “4 out of 5 doctors…”
- Card Stacking – Also known as “selective omission,” presenting information that is positive to an idea or proposal and omitting information contrary to it.
- Facts and Figures – Using statistics that make no sense, or are taken out of context and have no meaning.
This list is by no means complete, but it should suffice for this activity.
Here’s a video of the ad itself. If you can stomach it, please watch all the way through, then see how many of these techniques you can identify…
UPDATE: Some of my readers have said that the video auto-starts every time this page is loaded, even if it’s in a blog/RSS reader. So, if you want to see the video, just follow this link. That should take you directly to the video without linking to the website with the advertising.
So, how did you do? Were you able to spot any/all of the techniques above? Were there others that I didn’t list? Here’s a breakdown of what I found along with a transcript and images from the advertisement:
This is the USS New York built using 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center. Now, it appears on our officially authorized tenth anniversary September 11th commemorative, featuring separate sculptures of the USS New York and the World Trade Center Towers, inset with jeweler precision on its obverse, each entirely clad in .999 pure silver actually recovered from beneath the ashes of Ground Zero.
First, we’ve got some Transfer going on here in the opening image. The ship sails past the Statue of Liberty, as well as patriotic music in the background.
Next there are several Glittering Generalities, including the phrases “jeweler precision,” “.999 pure,” and “ashes of Ground Zero.” Also pay attention to the word “clad.”
Now, watch as this historic three-piece commemorative transforms to a magnificent standing sculpture of the World Trade Center with the USS New York sailing past. The commemorative base is clad in 14 milligrams of pure 24 carat gold. Then, the USS New York and the Twin Towers are clad in 14 milligrams of .999 pure silver – priceless silver recovered from Ground Zero.
Lots of Facts and Figures, and this is where people who are bad with math and don’t read carefully really get snookered. First, there’s that word “clad” again. That means it’s not solid, but is some other metal with a thin overlay of gold and silver. But exactly how much gold and silver?
I checked gold prices, and as of this posting they were right at $46 per gram. However, this says that there are 14 MILLIgrams. One milligram comes to about a nickle, so rounding up, we have about 70 cents worth of gold here, even less for the silver.
This private, non-monetary commemorative will never be released for circulation. But, it is available now through this special offer for collectors only. To mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th it is double-dated 2001 to 2011. It is minted under an exclusive license authorizing the striking of the official Department of Justice FBI insignia on the commemorative’s reverse, with our promise, “Justice will prevail.”
We’ve got a couple of things going on this paragraph. The first sentence lends an air of Exclusivity to the product. It’s private, and won’t be released for circulation. There’s a bit of Card Stacking and Selective Omission also going on here because what it fails to say is that it can’t be released for circulation since it isn’t real money. Invoking the 9/11 date has become a Glittering Generality, something with which you are not to argue. The word “justice” also falls into that category.
Perhaps less obvious is the Testimonial technique. It uses the Department of Justice and FBI as authoritative. Although it doesn’t appear in this video, I’ve seen other commercials from this company as well as the website for this particular coin state that it is “Minted under license of the Secret Service Uniformed Division Benefit Fund.” The problem is that I can find absolutely nothing about this organization online. Is it an official part of the Secret Service? Seems doubtful, since all links on all of my searches go to various products marketed with presidential seals and White House products. But, continuing on…
The final edition price was to be set at $49, but during this special release it can be yours for just $29.95. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity with triple verification confirming its 24 carat gold and .999 pure Ground Zero Recovery silver content as well as its official authorization.
The main thing in this paragraph is a Free/Reduced appeal. Buyers must be getting a bargain since the price was reduced. However, given the precious metal content and value previously discussed, it’s still highway robbery.
This could be the most meaningful collectible you will ever own. When the shrinking supply of silver from Ground Zero is finished, this striking will end forever, so there is a strict limit of 5 per order. Don’t miss out on this historic offer! Call now!
Here we have Exigency and Exclusivity working hand-in-hand. “Call now!” is a dead give-away. Don’t think about it – just act on emotion. The phrase “this striking will end forever” drives the point home. If only the commercials would also end forever, but…
Here is the last frame of the video. While there is no dialog, there is a disclaimer at the bottom stating that this offer has nothing to do with the US Government or US Mint.
I’ve purposefully avoided talking about the idea of silver from Ground Zero. There’s obviously some Transfer and Glittering Generalities taking place here. However, I haven’t found anything to prove or disprove the veracity of these claims. There were precious metals recovered from a vault of the Bank of Nova Scotia. However, there is nothing to indicate that this silver has anything to do with it. In 2004 a case was brought against National Collector’s Mint for its five-year commemorative coin. That prompted the US Mint to issue a press release. It looks like they are taking more precautions with their wording this time around.
In a way, it’s like the old Medieval reliquaries. Many major churches and cathedrals claimed to have a piece of the One True Cross which the faithful could come and visit. True or not, it increased that item’s value beyond the point of just being a piece of wood. I’m sure that’s what this coin’s promoters are hoping for here – or at least that people can’t do simple math and figure out that they are being scammed.
2 thoughts on “Media Literacy and Tasteless Advertising”
How about disabling that coin scam video? Every time my reader hits your blog it starts up, and I’m always mystified and have to close up windows until I find it. It is godawful, that’s for sure.
Will do. I’ll see about putting it on another page with a link so that it doesn’t autostart.