November 12, 2019

“Dilly Dilly,” More Than Silly

“Dilly Dilly” is certainly silly. A medieval king demanding that his subjects pay homage with cases of Bud Light, leading them in that strange toast and then, more ominously, having a subject who brings him aged whiskey dragged off, presumably to his execution. Or a small band of thirsty medieval peasants armed with little more than the “Dilly Dilly” war cry, absurdly charging a massive, well-armed opposing force to plunder their Bud Light. Or any one of the other ads for the beer, the number of which seems to increase daily. All silly. But more than that.

For one thing, the ads are unusually clever. The ad makers were looking for an expression that would catch the public’s attention, an understandable goal given that each 30-second ad during the Superbowl cost five million dollars. They might have chosen the German toast “Prosit,” the Viking’s “Skol,” or the Brit’s “Cheers.” But none of those terms would have gone viral, as the nonsense term “Dilly Dilly” did. Today millions, even billions, of people are using it despite its having no clear meaning.

The central principle of the ad is the same as in all advertising—create a catchy phrase, combine it with an image, repeat it over and over, and it will become lodged in people’s minds and influence their thoughts and behavior. It is not new, having worked for decades with Wheaties’ “Breakfast of Champions,” Coca Cola’s “The Pause That Refreshes,” KFC’s “Finger-Lickin’ Good,” United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies,” Gillette’s “The Best a Man Can Get,” and Allstate’s “You’re in Good Hands.”

Never mind that G. K. Chesterton noted more than a century ago, “It is only among people whose minds have been weakened by a sort of mesmerism that so transparent a trick as that of advertisement could ever have been tried at all.” Advertising works because its underlying principle gets people to buy goods and services.

In addition to being clever, “Dilly Dilly” ads are instructive, for they remind us of the impact modern mass communication has had since the advertising principle was adopted by dishonest politicians, journalists, community organizers, and social media contributors to manipulate people to embrace their messages without first evaluating them. Unfortunately, the principle often works as well for manipulators as it does for advertisers.

Contemporary discussion of social issues is filled with overgeneralization, oversimplification, selective reporting of facts, and appeals to emotion, all endlessly repeated. The result of these dishonest tactics is that many people are deceived into embracing views that careful thinking would prove to be mistaken. The situation would be greatly improved if critical thinking were a central part of every school curriculum, but that is not the case. Many teachers have not learned how to teach thinking, and those that have are prevented from doing so by Political Correctness.

By all means, have a good laugh at the “Dilly Dilly” ads (as I do), but also be aware of the dangerous use of the underlying advertising principle by the manipulators among us.

Copyright © 2018 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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