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Here are my top 4 Most Cynical Ad Campaigns of 2015:

“Know the gaps.” Rather than demonstrate what a fine product they can offer, this insurance company opts for pointing out that all the other policies are also lacking. Note that the ads never state that they can fill the gaps (any company could, for the right price), only that they will tell you what those gaps are up front. Presumably this is so that when you do file a claim, and they decline to pay, you will have already been informed of the gap. The slogan for their next campaign will probably be: “We told you so.”

“What’s in your wallet?” The Huns, the scammers, the identity thieves and burglars are all coming for you, according to this credit card company. In threatening tones that mimic the inflection of muggers, movie stars tell us we should be checking our wallets. What’s in my wallet? A very tiny fraction of what’s in theirs. Why would I want to entrust it to a bunch of bullies and snobs? The tone of this ad campaign clearly conveys to me that the company wants my money – all of it – in a syndicate-type operation where the “good” bad guys are going to protect me from the “bad” bad guys. Very threatening. I’ve been getting a snail-mail a week from this outfit. Wanna know what’s in my recycle bag?

“Win the holidays.”  I think this one speaks for itself. Talk about a “war on Christmas” – this is a war on all that is good and sincere in everyone’s winter celebration. Plus, I had to do a search to remember what/who the advertisement’s for, so that is a loser of an ad blitz on all levels. But at least it’s already on its way out.

“So long, Show Hole!” No kidding. I’m outta here. Any vendor of TV programming would be wise to minimize reminders that sitting in front of a screen for hours on end is indeed a dark, boring, depressing and unhealthy hole – and it doesn’t matter how vast a variety of stuff you are able to flip through. I wonder if Show Hole comes to us from the same cynics who cooked up Find the Gaps.

Definition of “cynical” from Merriam-Webstera :  contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives… b :  based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest… cynical implies having a sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity… 

In other words, cynicism makes hypocrisy seem pretty benign. Hypocrisy is  (also from Merriam-Webster) “the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do … behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel.” This at least implies a collective sense of rightness and/or a personal sense of shame in not living up to common standards of behavior. Unlike hypocrites, cynics don’t care if they appear despicable, they assume the rest of us are just the same and only waiting for some impetus to indulge our natural impulses.

In the past couple of election seasons, I’ve longed for more exposure and discussion of the hypocrisy of certain politicians and party platforms. With the new year we will be racing full tilt toward another election, and hypocrites are no longer my biggest concern. I suspect that I was being rather naive right along, and that some of those I accused of hypocrisy were/are in fact cynics who never intended to walk their talk or thought it mattered to us if they did. All folks want is to get behind a winner, right? So you do what it takes to win, and those who were for you win with you, and everyone else is a loser.

Hmm… what does this sound like? Reality TV? The numbers game we play with social media? Corporate branding campaigns? And now our politics. The same advertising machine that brings us “What’s in your wallet?” and “show hole” is no doubt eagerly prepping political ads of the same ilk. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with. I don’t think people are inherently unethical, insincere, greedy or unkind. I don’t think we expect or want our public officials to be that way. A whole lot of money and creative energy is going to be spent to convince us otherwise. At least the cynics are unashamed and transparent. Noticing the cynicism of commercial ad campaigns like those I have listed is a good way to brace ourselves for what’s to come.

In other words: Get ready to have your humanity insulted (even more) in 2016.

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