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256. Verisimilitude.

Verisimilitude. I had an old communications professor who used this word a lot. (At the time I thought it sounded like a $50 word only someone with a Ph.D. would use. Maybe I still feel this way.) Anyway, It means roughly having the appearance of being true or real. Taken in context, it’s usually used to describe something that is genuine. Verisimilitude is an important quality for an advertiser to convey — that is to say, it is important for a campaign to have at least a little truth at it’s core. This makes whatever exaggeration and theatrical liberties inherent in the concept, as relevant to the audience as they are entertaining. Verisimilitude is what makes a lot of ads work. Simply put: they’re believable.

An advertiser (or agency) can get into trouble when they neglect reality for a substitution of their own making. I don’t expect all ads to be realistic in terms of creativity. Of course a lot of campaigns are far flung fiction — but if they are to be effective — they must somehow communicate a truth. When this is neglected bad things happen. Take for instance the tv spot described below:

Imagine a commercial that opens with a retro full-size van crashing through a wall and skidding down the road to the tune of a vintage tv show soundtrack. You then see clips of other older vans busting through fences, jumping ravines, doing burnouts and generally being driven with reckless abandon as if in action sequences of shows long since cancelled. As a matter of fact, you even recognize one of the vans as the one featured in the A-team, the show that gave Mr. T claim to fame. This is a pretty cool spot you think to yourself as the words Respect The Van appear on the screen.

But then a Honda minivan slides into a titlecard and the tagline The Van’s still Rockin’ appear to make a complete mess of it. “This is a minivan commercial?” you say to yourself.

Yes, this is actually a real spot.

Honda Odyssey's Respect the Van:

The footage you just watched featured a bunch of full-size domestic vans. These vans were made by GMC, Dodge and Ford. And most of the clips did come from old sitcoms. They were cool to be sure, but have absolutely nothing at all to do with minivans. Or more specifically, Honda minivans. It appears that the company is stretching to make their product relevant by attaching it to the nostalgia of the big bad vans of ‘70s pop culture with which it had absolutely nothing in common. Watching the spot again, it’s easy to see how this would actually be a great spot for a Dodge or GMC Van (bankruptcy not withstanding).

If the only thing ‘cool Honda can say about its minivans is that if you close your eyes and use a little imagination it is in some small vague way similar to vans of the past – that’s not a good thing. The old vans were somewhat worthy of the respect, being the gaudy hotrods of their day. The comparison only highlights the silliness and unmanliness of the Odyssey. By comparing they are actually contrasting. In fact, the campaign kinda makes me want to go out there and buy a real van. (Maybe the same thing happen to Portland designer, Aaron Draplin.)

Here is another spot in the campaign, and it could be argued that it's even worse.

Generally, I’ve been a big fan of a lot of Honda’s advertising over the years, But selling the minivan as the modern incarnation of these loud, hippy rides is just not believable. It lacks a reality check. It's terrible advertising because it lacks much needed verisimilitude. So, this is a lesson to agencies and advertisers alike, your branding must be authentic for it to resonate.

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