Rebecca O'Connor

We need to be more sceptical about financial adverts

Scepticism has a solid place in the history of British philosophical enquiry. Back in the 18th century, empiricists such as David Hume dedicated their lives to the importance of suspending belief in things for which there is insufficient evidence through experience.

On the whole, it’s a tradition our culture has maintained. Scepticism rears up in daily life all the time – for example, when your mother-in-law asks how you are, and you think: ‘Is the asking of this question sufficient evidence for me to believe that you really are genuinely interested in how I am?’

Yet at some point, I would argue in the last two years, and possibly almost entirely as a result of a combination of Richard Curtis and John Lewis, we abandoned our brilliant scepticism en masse each time an advertisement appeared on the television that:

  1. Showed cute children doing something sweet for each other
  2. Showed cute animals
  3. Played nostalgic music
  4. Was shot in soft focus
  5. Had people crying/hugging/laughing/generally emoting together
  6. All of the above

Upon which cue, the knees of normally contained people would buckle as they quickly reached for the sofa, tears welling in eyes, followed by an: ‘aw, I really love that ad’. But what comes next – the subconscious acceptance of the brand behind the ad as a benign and friendly influence in our lives – is where a scepticism refresher might come in handy.

Intelligent people feel they can knowingly succumb to the sentimentality in such ads temporarily and come out the other side unsullied by the marketing because they believe they are aware of and impervious to the machinations of the advertising industry.

Sadly, advertising is cleverer than you.

And ads for financial services companies are the best and the worst. If you’ve seen Lloyds Bank’s tremendously effective but totally offensive ‘For the next step’ campaign, which goes in hard on divorce, death and losses of every kind to make our stomachs lurch with sadness and empathy for we-know-not-who, evoking memories of our own past grief and despair, you’ll know what I’m on about.

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