LG: Exploiting hope for gain

Who would have thought that I would write a blog post about something so trivial as the fact that advertisers are dishonest? But there’s a difference between not being entirely honest, and using other people in your deception to their loss and your own gain. Electronics giant LG appear to be doing the latter in meteoric style.

An advertisement for LG is currently doing the rounds: A TV screen is embedded in a wall to look like a window to the outside world, an unwitting participant believes that they are at a job interview, and to their horror, through the “window”  they see a meteor smash into the earth, spelling their certain death. Cue the terrified reaction followed by the big unveil: It’s not real, it’s a TV screen! Say, aren’t our TVs realistic? Buy one!

I do not know if this is actually a prank or if the prank victims are really just actors. However, I think it is clear that LG intends for viewers to believe that this is a genuine prank: the victims of the prank did not know that it was coming. They were genuinely tricked, which shows how realistic their TVs are. This is how the ad is supposed to work, and if these people were merely being presented as actors, the argument that these TVs are good enough to trick people would fail. Here’s the video:

The comments that I have seen are generally favourable, and they appear to assume that the only way in which LG could be wronging people here is by frightening them (again, assuming – s these comments do – that this was actually a prank and not just an act). The question people are concerning themselves with is “did they go too far in scaring people?”

That’s a good question, but it certainly is not the first question that struck me. It’s possible that this is the reaction of a lot of people on YouTube because they are high school students who have never had to grapple with the rat race of the job market (just a guess, but that could be mistaken). But the screamingly obvious issue for me was this: I have been out of work and unable to provide for my family. I have been in work that I wanted to be out of, and desperately wanted another job so that I could do something rewarding and which better provided for my family.  Neither of these are good situations to be in.

When a person is in that situation, getting a job interview is a great feeling. It’s a real chance. You put off other appointments, you start to worry just a little less about landing a job. If you think your chances are very good, you might (although you really should not) stop applying for other jobs shortly prior to the interview.  The fact that someone thought enough of your application to interview you, if you’re someone who has been trying for a while, lets you finally believe that you’re good enough to at least consider (in fact you may well be good enough anyway, and you simply don’t get an interview because of the sheer volume of applications, but I am talking about how things seem to the applicant). You’ve applied, you have been given an interview, your spirits are lifted, you actually entertain hope about the job, you prepare yourself for whatever questions you might be asked, you (try to) prepare yourself psychologically for the interview, you show up early, you step through the door….

And LG pranks you into thinking you’re about to die, laugh about it, tell you how great their TV is, maybe the give you a TV, I don’t know, and that is that. You were used. You weren’t good enough for the job because there is no job, and you have just helped LG make an advertisement that will, all things going according to the business plan, pad out their profits a little more.

The fact that the main interest of most commentators is whether or not the prank was too scary is a symptom of our ethical shallowness when it comes to the issue of simply using people.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Sandra September 7, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Wow – I actually hadn’t considered that angle. I feel awful about this advertisement now!

  • Alabaster Livinstone September 7, 2013, 5:11 pm

    Hey Glenn,

    At first I though you might be over reacting to a commercial geared towards another culture (Latin America is going through a pranking phase). But then I sat down and though about it. If [b]I[/b] applied to a particular job, and was pranked in such a way, I can easily see how inconsiderate of an advertisement campaign it actually is.

  • Joseph Dear September 7, 2013, 5:43 pm

    I hadn’t thought of that either, but you are right Glenn. Having had to go through the employment search myself not too long ago and discovering what an utterly draining, emotionally devastating, inexplicably soul-crushing experience it is, I find LG’s methods to be terrible.

  • Sven September 7, 2013, 10:44 pm

    Hi Glenn,

    while I understand your initial reaction (I have been through extended periods of job trouble myself), I can assure you it is highly unlikely these were actual pranks with people applying for real jobs.

    I create CG images for a living and the kind of light you get from a window (viewing an actual scene) and that emitted from a TV screen (no matter how good) is so very distinct even an untrained eye would immediately recognize it.

    As you see in the spot, the TV is the only lightsource in that room — illuminating the whole room, which is plainly not possible. The TV would have to emit insane amounts of light to trick you into believing that it was natural light from the outside. Also the light distribution would be completely off, as you get a lot of diffuse light from the sky which comes in at a very high angle (from the top), the TV screen would not mimick that at all and instead emit all light evenly from the front.

    There are other reasons that make it improbable these were actual job interviews, but I wont go into them here. You can of course still evaluate the question of wether this were an unmoral act, had LG actually committed it.

  • Sandra September 7, 2013, 11:07 pm

    As Glenn said (and I agree), it looks like LG intended for the stunt to look like an actual prank, which provides enough moral fodder here even if LG did not in fact do it.

    Interestingly, the internet is pretty silent about whether these were just actors or not (although on one point, nothing in this video makes it look like the TV is the sole light source, especially in the final scene after the unveil), but all the sites I can find (and some of them are tech sites) seem to be pretty credulous about it nonetheless.

  • Sven September 8, 2013, 2:53 am

    Sandra — I somewhat doubt the average consumer regards an advertisement as a recording of actual facts (even if presented as such).

    I find the moral outrage thing on the internet rather tiresome.

  • Blair Donkin September 8, 2013, 11:08 pm

    Without any intro I showed this to my 12 year old son and 14 year old daughter. I asked them what they thought of the video and did they think it was ok? Although they had smiled while watching it my son was concerned that people were filmed without their knowledge and my daughter immediately said, that these people thought they were at a job interview and clearly they weren’t. I asked if they thought the interviewees were actors or not. Without hesitation they said they were real job candidates and not actors. I asked how did they know. They identified that the nature of their responses was not acting but in their minds was genuine.

  • Glenn September 9, 2013, 9:24 am

    I did say this in the blog article itself, but let me reiterate again: I do not know whether or not these are actors, although it looks clear to me that LG intended that viewers believe that they are not actors – and this intention seems to have been realised because viewers, for the most part, appear to be reacting as though they believe that these prank victims are not actors. That is the source of my concern, because if LG intends viewers to believe that these are not actors, then it would seem that LG is happy for viewers to believe that LG has acted in this way, presumably meaning that LG has no important moral reservations about what is depicted here, real or not. That is the problem.

    As for “moral outrage on the internet,” the best that I can do is to assure readers that I am not pretending. These really are my moral reservations “in real life” and I consider them to be good ones. It never occurred to me that by sharing them on the internet I would somehow be making them less important or more likely to be wrong. I am sorry to come across as tiresome.

  • Sven September 9, 2013, 10:15 am

    Hi Glenn,

    I understand where you’re coming from. What I wrote is not very well articulated, but I think you got the gist of what I meant nontheless. Just to clarify:

    1. I agree with you (and the other commenters) that people should not be taken advantage of when in a difficult situation (like unemployment).
    2. I (strongly) doubt people were taken advantage of in this advertisement.
    3. Even if the majority of people watching this think it’s real, I think they shouldn’t (it’s an advertisement).
    4. I think this issue is not worth spending time blaming LG, as even if they acted wrongly, which I regard it as a minor offense.
    4a. Especially Christians should be careful about pointing fingers at others and resort to that practice only if really necessary. This is rather about my personal views on etiquette than a general rule.
    5. I never said you only “pretended” the incident to be an issue. As I said I understand your feelings regarding unemployment very well. But I think the strength of your reaction stands in a unjust relation to the offense.

  • Glenn September 9, 2013, 11:36 am

    Oh sorry, no I didn’t mean that you had claimed that I was only pretending. I only meant that this is real world moral disapproval, which only happens to also be on the internet. I didn’t quite get the point of specifically finding “internet” moral outrage tiresome, that’s all.

    And you’re right, I could have offered a proportionately smaller response – maybe a scrawled Post-it note on my fridge. But still, a relatively short comment on a relatively obscure blog (not even a newspaper editorial or anything) does seem to me to be fairly low down the scale of proportional responses. I shall take your suggestion that this is a proportionally over-sized response in relation to LGs mass distributed advertisement to be a compliment to my blog. 🙂 (Although for the record, I don’t intend on taking my reservations further than this blog entry.)

  • Kenneth September 9, 2013, 5:39 pm

    Glenn, I thought this was a point well made – and one that too many people probably would not consider when viewing the advertisement.

    For what it’s worth (which may not be a lot), it’s kinda rude to come along and tell the author that he really shouldn’t have bothered to make the point because there are other things he should be saying. He can make whatever point he likes and if you don’t like it, just ignore it.

  • Sven September 9, 2013, 7:14 pm

    @Glenn: about the “pretending” — I am sorry, I misunderstood you. English is not my first language. (Well, I guess you figured that out by now anyway)

    I see why you don’t get the “moral outrage on the internet” thing as I have failed to give a good argument. I spent more time on commenting here than I intended to, so I will leave it at that for now and try to think harder / argue better next time.

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