What is Advertising Without Lying?

I just saw a sleeper movie, The Invention of Lying, that poses an amusing premise: what would the world look like and behave like if there were no conception of lying? In the movie, starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner, everyone tells the absolute bald truth, all the time, even when unprompted. Biting one’s tongue and not saying the truth is not even possible. (If at this point you are recalling Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar and Yes Man, don’t worry, this is a much better and subtler - and subversive - film.)

In response to a stressful situation, Gervais’ character at one point tells The World’s First Lie, and the rest of the movie is about the consequences that come out of that act and realization that there is such a thing as non-truth (one of which is the creation of religion). It’s a new spin on the old adage “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king”, except here it’s the man who can lie who suddenly wields power over the gullable masses.

Gervais’ character works for a movie studio as a screenwriter, but all the movies in this world are simple tedious retellings (by a man sitting in a chair reading a book) of historical events. Fiction cannot exist in a world without lying.

This alternate world, which does not even have a word for truth, looks otherwise exactly like ours, complete with all the cars, gadgets and architecture that surround us. But it got me thinking: it’s a fine line between lying and innovation. Both spring from the ability to imagine an alternate reality, and then marshaling the courage of one’s convictions to carry that through to try and convert the present into the new reality.

The goals of lying and innovation are obviously very different, but at their root they have considerable similarities. Could the truth-only world of Gervais’ character exist without the ability to think imaginatively, differently, alternatively? I seriously doubt it.

This point is really driven home by a fantastic commercial in the movie for Coca-Cola, surely a company at the pinnacle of posing a nebulous value proposition in mass-culture’s mind that, when looked at dryly, has little merit. Watch the video above, and enjoy (video won’t embed, so click here or on the image to go to YouTube).