Ad Dissonance

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Happy families frolicking on a beach as a cute little jingle plays in the background. Grinning supermodels moonily discussing how wonderful the product is. A cheerful, paternal-sounding announcer going on about how its makers are dedicated to improving your life. It seems like a normal, saccharine-sweet ad.

...Until, of course, we pan out to see it playing on a flickering TV in the middle of a war zone, displayed on a rotting billboard in a Ghost City, or being beamed into the minds of some grim Dystopia's residents.

The ad will (almost) always be for the Mega Corp that caused the whole mess in the first place, especially if this is a Cyberpunk work.

As you see above, it's a definite Truth in Television.

Examples of Ad Dissonance include:

Comic Books

  • Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre - The opening scene is a Nort propaganda video boasting about how much the Southers have been beaten. At the end of the scene, the camera pans out to show the TV is lying in the middle of a battlefield in which the Norts were creamed.


  • Used with depressing effectiveness in Children of Men.
  • This was the trailer for the third Resident Evil movie.
  • Pennies From Heaven is all about this trope, starring Steven Martin and Bernadette Peters, in a comedy about how during the Depression, movies just portrayed everyone as rich, happy—and DANCING.
  • The publicity ad for Shell Beach in Dark City. It is one of the few happy and bright images in the entire movie, where the city is dark and run down. It gets truly dissonant because while the main character and his uncle remember growing up and living there, no one knows how to get there. Turns out the reality warping aliens have implanted Fake Memories of the place in everyone, it never existed!

Live-Action TV

  • The Doctor Who serial "The Armageddon Factor" opens with a Patriotic Fervor speech between young lovers that turns out to be a soap opera being shown on a war ravaged world.
  • Auf Wiedersehen, Pet featured this in its first title sequence with one of the characters walking towards the dole office in front of Satchi & Satchis famous 'Labour isn't working' poster.

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun adventure Double Exposure. One illustration had a billboard for Project Hope, with a happy family and the words "The Bravest Future". Under the billboard some Project Hope goons are giving a man a bloody beating.

Video Games

  • The Fallout series is madly in love with this trope.
  • The various posters in BioShock. The special edition of BioShock 2 even comes with some print outs of them with hidden messages printed in UV ink on the front.
  • Borderlands, especially in the areas added by Secret Armory of General Knoxx has optimistic, 20's style billboards advertising settlement on Pandora.
  • The famous commercial for the original Super Smash Bros starts with Mario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, and Pikacu happily strolling through a meadow as "So Happy Together" plays, until Mario - for some unknown reason - kicks Yoshi and all four of them start fighting, the song still playing.

Western Animation

  • WALL-E does this with holographic billboards on Earth, and uses them to detail the movie's backstory. Pixar then took it Up to Eleven by giving Buy-N-Large its own functional website, which expands on said backstory and is packed with black humor/social commentary worthy of The Onion.

Real Life

  • Pretty much any slum, urban war zone, or disaster area with billboards will fall into this trope.
  • The above page image is a good example. Doubly so when you consider the racial situation at the time.
  • Modern Russia is this trope:
    • Has anyone else seen the DVDs you can get of old Russian propaganda cartoons? Try watching "Plus Electrification Now" while also picturing Russia of the 1970s. Ouch.
    • Turning propaganda into Hypocritical Humor this way became a canonical part of the Russian Humour.

A kindergarten teacher expounds on how cool it is to live in Soviet Union. One of kids starts to cry.
governess: What's up, Vovochka?
kid: I want to go to Soviet Unio-o-on!

  • As long as we're talking about a real life section, North Korea beats Russia, hands down raised in salute to the wise leader Kim Jong Il!
  • Often happens online because of the keyword-based nature of advertising bots. Atheism boards are overrun by religious banner ads, discussions on forums devoted to people who do not drive cars are plastered with car insurance advertisements, news stories about disasters in a place will be covered by tourism ads urging people to visit the place, and so on.
    • There's at least one photo out there of an article on a baby dying in a house fire... with an ad reading Burn Baby Burn.