John Grindrod: Watch for that advertising sleight of hand


By John Grindrod - Guest Columnist



Back in my days of hanging around elementary gyms when my kiddos were wearing the red and gold of the St. Charles Redwings during the CYO portion of their and my life, I remember waiting on the conclusion of a game prior to my Katie’s taking the floor for her game.

In that preceding girls game, at one of the lower CYO levels, say, the fourth grade, I remember the young coach, probably one who had a daughter on the team as is so often the case with youth-league coaches, was calling out numbered plays each time his little ladies regained control of the ball.

While the helter-skelter scrum that has always been an apropos description of little kiddos all trying to possess the ball at the exact same moment in time rarely looked any different, I admired the coach for trying to teach his troops some plays.

Now, in the course of the last 10 minutes or so I was watching, the numbers he shouted varied, I do remember there were a lot of 17’s interspersing quite a few other numbers.

After the game ended and he was walking by, I stopped him and complimented him on his win. During our brief conversation, I also acknowledged his apparent attempts to teach his little hyperkinetic ladies a number of plays, given the variety of numbers he was calling out.

He snickered and leaned in close to me and said, “Actually, we only have two plays. One’s 17, and the other is any number not 17!”

I have to laugh recalling that long-ago moment. Since girls that age were bouncing around in their own unbridled chaos without much semblance of running any planned-and-practiced play, who could really tell what was coming anyway? However, merely presenting the illusion that they were somehow armed with this incredible arsenal of plays just may have been enough to win the war psychologically.

And, really, when you think about it, the harmless deceptions employed in athletic contests, from that CYO coach from decades ago to legendary Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne, who used the old fumblerooski in the 1984 Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes, isn’t all that different from what we often see in real life.

Perhaps of all the deception that exists in the world, none is more pervasive than the race for higher profits by companies’ advertising.

Author and advertising expert Barry S. Lee, in his 2009 article, “Don’t Try to Fool the Public with Your Advertising or the Joke Will Be on You,” admonishes advertisers, “If you create the slightest feel of mistrust, whether by blatant falsehood or overt omission, you’ll ruin any chance you have of getting (people) as a customer.”

Personally, I’m always suspicious when I see in advertising that some product is “clinically” or “scientifically” proven to have such-and-such nutritional benefits. One case about such claims involved a popular brand of Dannon yogurt, Activia, that enticed consumers to pay more for the product because of its proclaimed added nutritional benefits that other yogurts couldn’t match. In 2010, according to ABC News, a class-action settlement cost the company millions of dollars in damages, the largest ever for a false-advertising claim, to consumers who claimed they’d been duped, which forced Dannon to be much more careful about the health claims attributed to its products.

The same thing occurred with a product called Extenze several years ago, which claimed to have been scientifically proven to increase the size of a certain portion of the male anatomy. A false-advertising suit followed and, like Dannon, the company paid millions to consumers duped by the claims.

Each time I go through Wilmington, Ohio, during my work travels, I always seem to get caught by the same traffic light entering the downtown area, which gives me time to look at the side of a brick building. In faint letters on the brick, I can see an old Coca-Cola advertisement, and under the trademark cursive letters, there are the words still readable, “Relieves fatigue.” I always laugh when I see this long-ago advertising that once presented the sugary concoction as having some medicinal qualities to combat the complex condition of fatigue.

While we sports people are used to a little deception in our games, even from a CYO coach and his little ladies from long ago, we better keep our eye on those advertisers as well, and I hope that watchdog agency that oversees truth in advertising, the Federal Trade Commission, keeps eye peeled as well.

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By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at grinder@wcoil.com.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at grinder@wcoil.com.

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