Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't Call a Rose "Red"

After having a flat tire repaired at the local garage recently, I opened my car door to find a largish sheet of paper set over the floor mat of the driver’s side. No surprise. At first blush, one would think that this is the garage’s way of saying, “Hey, we realize we’re pretty messy – it’s sort of your car’s fault – but we didn’t want to get your car dirty and have to pay for a carpet cleaning.” Good form. What was actually written on the paper is what made me laugh: in big letters right smack in the middle were the words “Eco Barrier”. Eco barrier? Are they trying to tell me that the guys out in the bays are wearing haz-mat suits and walking through toxic waste and biological ooze that would best be kept from making contact with the carpet in my car? If that’s the case, is a piece of bleached white paper really going to act as a “barrier” against such an eventuality? One word: marketing.

Someone in the corporate office was sitting there thinking, “There will be people stepping into their car, reading the words ‘Eco Barrier’, and saying, ‘Thank all that is holy that they spared my car from possible toxic contamination.’ I should get a healthy raise for that little piece of brilliant word play. That’s way better than Bob’s idea of writing ‘Stain Stopper’ on the paper mat. Way too pedestrian!”

The marketing folks’ job is to make us feel good about our purchases and spur us on to make more purchases. Right now, there’s a commercial running on TV for a feminine pad in which you see the product on an animated roller coaster doing loops and dives. Seeing how much fun that pad was having made me wish I could wear one. It’s like having a roller coaster in your pants – that could be a great slogan!

Speaking of slogans, marketing makes sure just the right word or words are used to paint an enticing picture. Quite often, marketing has to put this valuable word play into just the name, so they choose their words very carefully. For example, that gas-guzzling, blind-spot-the-size-of-Texas vehicle that is so ever present on the road isn’t called an OSW (Overgrown Station Wagon) or a 2T2S (Truck that Seats Seven). It’s called an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle). Although the name may be completely off the mark, we want to feel like it perfectly defines our tastes and who we are. But seriously, whom are we kidding? If going to the grocery store and taking up two parking spots – because you can – is an NCAA-sanctioned sport, then okay. Or, if driving around the block by yourself to a Pilates class is classified as a utility, fine.

Clothing companies employ armies of wordsmiths to come up with thirty-seven different names for the color red. They’re not about to tell you that the shirt is “orangeish red” – if they did, they could only charge you a mere fraction of the price they’re trotting out there. The shirt you are considering is “heather cayenne”. “Heather cayenne? That color could only come from blind monks who dye each yarn by hand high up in the Andalusian mountains and carry them by mule down to the nearby town to sell in the market square. At $274, this T-shirt is steal. I’ll take two.” That may not happen with anyone you or I may know outside of Hollywood, but it’s the stuff of marketing folks’ dreams.

Here’s the rub, though: even when the marketing people have their lapses in judgment, we blindly follow them down the primrose path of post-industrial purchasing. What do I mean? Two words: Leisure suit (a.k.a. the Iron Man). There was so much polyester in those puppies, you wouldn’t have to worry about haz-mat suits or Eco barriers.

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