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Suspension of Disbelief in Marketing

by Phil Cantor, on 26 June, 2020

Do you know anyone not in marketing? They think marketing is just spin, right? And pretty colours. But mostly spin. Or, as they call it nowadays, fake news. Now, I'm not equating marketing putting something forward in its best light as connected in any way to disinfectant advice, 5G nonsense and the like, but there is always a (healthy) suspicion that we don't always, maybe, say everything. For example, one of my favourite adverts is the B2B Volvo ad with Jean-Claude van Damme.


A great video, though arguably not a common "user journey" for truck drivers. My son, who is an ops manager at a trucking company says it's not often his drivers need to treat a celebrity actor as a chicken wishbone.

But is it real? Volvo said when the video went viral (97 million views and rising): "The stunt is real and is performed in just one take.  It’s a daring stunt but we had full control. Van Damme was actually connected to safety lines that you can't see in the video. Small platforms on the trucks' side mirrors also propped up Van Damme's feet."

But it is genuinely amazing how often the best way to make a point is not to take a real situation but take the point you are making and extrapolate it it to ludicrous effect. Take another great advert (this one's rather old so the picture quality is not great), the famous German coastguard advert. 


Indeed, I do teach my marketing colleagues, try to make your product - no matter how mundane - a life-or-death choice!  Find a situation where your product is the hero that saves the day.

For years popular films - currently now Netflixing (16 million viewers added in March per the FT) rather than cinemaing - and for even longer, books, have exploited this abandon with the need to be real: there's even a name for it, "suspension of disbelief".  Often we can suspend disbelief in huge dollops, as long as the dialogue and minor details are correct.  So to all my marketing friends and readers, here it how far it gets pushed daily, compiled over many years, my:

20 Gross Delusions you have to Ignore to Enjoy Movies.

  1. Two cars that have an accident always explode
  2. All criminals knows all other criminals, how to find them and what they plan to do
  3. The nearest policemen to an incident are always the two detectives investigating the case
  4. The best way to arrest a criminal in the distance is to shout "Stop! Police!" - before you approach
  5. You can pour petrol over someone, then light a match and threaten to drop it without the vapour catching and immolating you immediately
  6. The trial starts the day after the arrest.
  7. Anyone who coughs will be dead from TB in the next scene - or will infect a huge number of people.
  8. In a bar, the hero always knows how much to toss on the counter after several drinks.
  9. Lifts always have panels you can open in the roof.
  10. Car parking is never a problem.
  11. If, on foot, you are being chased by a car, run away as fast as you can down the middle of a wide street.  In the direction the car is driving.
  12. Any woman feeling sick is pregnant.
  13. Waiters come immediately.
  14. All alleyways are dead ends with chain link fences at the bottom that can – just – be climbed.
  15. Everyone speaks English and always hears others correctly, even in the midst of battle.
  16. Policemen always call for backup but never wait for it.  
  17. And back doors as an escape route always come as a surprise.
  18. Women wake up in bed fully made up.
  19. Detectives have phenomenal memories so never need to take notes when talking to a witness or suspect.
  20. No-one ever needs the toilet.

This story is contributed from our audience, if you'd like to have your say and get published on our site, get in touch at hello@martechalliance.com


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