Where the truth lies: advertising's role in the rise of fake news

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Fake news isn’t just something that plagues politics and social media. Its poison has permeated communications, including design and advertising, for years – and may even have originated there.

The “golden age” of advertising and design in the in the 1950 and 60s produced a lot of sparkling, glittery falsehoods that turned heads and opened wallets. I’m not quashing the quality of work in that period – look at the brilliance of Saul Bass, Paul Rand and Robert Brownjohn – it’s just that, in the rush towards creativity, honesty was often left for dust.

Today’s trend towards “authenticity” marks a welcome u-turn on the long road towards showy, false marketing that the communications business was built on for so many years.

In the backlash against fake news, fake followers and the “Insta-sham” life, brands are starting to look back to the days when advertising was about communicating the benefits of a product, with maybe some information about provenance, and the ingredients it was made from. Packaging, too, was more functional; simply a way to store or transport a product and to label what was inside.

During the Mad Men era, we started using design and advertising to tell people that they needed a product to make them happy or make them fit in, and the theatre started to build, as consumers were sold empty dreams or brazen falsehoods. Cigarettes were good for you: Lucky Strike turned you into an athlete (really) and if you wanted to make like a doctor, you were advised to smoke a Camel.
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