Advertisements upset me. They seem designed to appeal to the misinformed, uninformed, or gullible; preying upon every emotional and logical weakness they can find. I often find myself insulted on behalf of humanity that the people behind these schemes think so little of humanity. And yet, ads persist, likely because they work on enough of the population to be sustainable (not unlike a virus). For a time I was happy knowing I was hopefully above the sort to be tricked by underhanded marketing, I recently reached a breaking point and wanted to push back against the nonsense. And thus this series was born. Welcome to…
A Regular Critique of Advertising Nonsense
DirecTV is launching a new HD TV DVR (high-definition television digital video recorder, in case you didn’t already know) system they’re calling the Genie. I saw an ad for this new service and knew I’d need to cover it for a short and sweet column in this series. Yet again I can’t find an embedded-able link to this particular ad but it’s the one where a couple are complaining about how terrible cable is with smash cuts to obnoxious situations like having an airline seat next to a constantly cackling ventriloquist’s dummy. And no, this column isn’t about the nonexistence of magical autonomous dummies (at least not today…).
The reason this commercial has earned my ire is their failure to properly represent fractions. That’s right, fractions. After my math flub in last week’s column consider this my mea cupla. At one point the the screen shows that the couple’s current DVR has 0% space left thus preventing them from recording more content (Fig. 1).
But then! A magical genie that looks just like a woman in a spangly dress and nothing like a flame monster from Arabic mythology. Her powers expand the DVR storage space to three times its current size! Now my expectation was that the bar would shift from being completely full to 1/3 full. See if you follow me: If you had 1 GB of storage and it was full, then you were upgraded to 3 GB of storage you would have 1 GB out of 3 GB filled, or 33%. So imagine my surprise when that was not what happened. Instead the storage capacity jumps by between 11-12x its original amount, leaving the filled space as but a sliver of the current capacity (Fig. 2).
To be fair, the ad on the does have the following fine print:
Based on hours of HD recording with one Genie HD DVR setup (model HR34 only).
Which doesn’t really clear up anything at all, but never let it be said I obfuscated some piece of information that would exonerate the offending marketer.
Is this a nitpick? Probably, and honestly I’d accept, and realistically expect, DirecTV to fudge a little bit on this one. Of course they want to make their product look as impressive as possible, but doing it in such a brazen way that anyone with any sense of numbers would balk is dishonest and unconvincing. Americans are bad enough at math without the company actively trying to keep them planted to the couch piling on with an inappropriate sense of scale.
In the end, seeing as I’m such a nice guy and all, I went ahead and fixed the add using photo-editing technology making it roughly 3x more accurate (Fig. 3). I invite DirecTV to use my correction and update their ad, it’s just that easy. And as I sit here rubbing the lamp on my desk, I’ll be wishing that advertisers utilize at least 5th grade level math the next time they’re putting together a new campaign.