The Barbie cover wrap appears on 1,000 copies of the magazine. Inside: a four-page Barbie ad spread. The issue hit newsstands on February 18.
Barbie herself turns 55 this year; her waist has gotten a little thicker, her feet a little flatter, and her thighs even more toothpick-like, but she’s still perky and game. In fact, the theme of the swimsuit-issue ad tie-in is #Unapologetic—yes, with a social-media-friendly hashtag. (New York Times ad critic Stuart Elliott noted that the singer Rihanna got there first with a November 2012 album called “Unapologetic”; Rihanna “often uses the hashtag #Unapologetic in social media,” Elliott wrote.)
The coordinated campaign has kicked up some controversy. But I remained neutral until yesterday, when a full-page ad, designed to look like an open letter, appeared in the main news section of the New York Times.
Now I wish Barbie would #ShutUp.
The headline is clever enough.
“Why posing for Sports Illustrated suits me.”
And the first sentence—“I am a doll”—seems to promise a playful, self-mocking first-person confessional. But the rest—all 500 words of it—is, I am sorry to say, as painful as a hike in five-inch stilettos: awkward, rambling, poorly punctuated, cliché-ridden. It’s like listening to one of those extemporaneous pageant-contestant speeches.
“Over time, I’ve become an icon,” Barbie humble-brags, “and as with all icons, I’ve been pulled into the cultural conversation”:
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim.
That’s a 40-word sentence. Did you make it through all the prepositional phrases? Note the Random Capital Letters and the tortured effort to avoid ending the sentence in a preposition. Barbie loves a zombie rule.
Barbie also loves “conversation”:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit [sic] drums up conversation and controversy.
Barbie is a little confused about what “word” means.
I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.
I had not realized that a word could be dismissed as a poseable [sic] plaything.
Naturally, there’s a rousing finale, more appropriate for a middle-school debate tournament than for the nation’s newspaper of record.
So the Swimsuit issue is out, and there’s bound to be a conversation or two about the women in it. Ask yourself, isn’t it time we teach girls to celebrate who they are? Isn’t there room for capable and captivating? It’s time to stop boxing in potential. Be free to launch a career in a swimsuit, lead a company while gorgeous, or wear pink to an interview at MIT. The reality of today is that girls can go anywhere and be anything. They should celebrate who they are and never have to apologize for it.
If you’re keeping score—and since we’re talking about Sports Illustrated, why not?—that’s three “conversation”s.
Forget the sociology and gender politics for a minute: It’s depressing to see such amateurish copywriting from a major American brand. (Barbie is owned by Mattel, whose 2013 revenue was more than $6 billion; sales of Barbie products account for almost half of the revenue.) A full-page ad in the Timescosts between $60,000 and $100,000. For a tiny percentage of that sum, Mattel or its agency could have hired an experienced copywriter to create a witty ad that burnished Barbie’s reputation rather than providing critics with more ammunition.
Then again, the closest Barbie has ever gotten to an actual writing career is “News Anchor.”
Questions I ask myself while looking at advertisements:
1. Is “happy” the new “happiness”?
“Where there’s happy, it has to be Heinz.” (From a Target.com ad.) The slogan also appeared at the end of Heinz’s Super Bowl spot, which featured a humming chorus of “When You’re Happy and You Know It.”
“There’s a whole lot of happy in every jar of Nutella.” I learned about this one from, of all things, a clue in the New York Times daily crossword puzzle. (More about the song in the commercial here.)
3. Where there’s happy, is there also better?
“Where Better Happens” newspaper ad for Sears. (Hat tip: Ben Yagoda.) Judging from the windows at my local Sears, this is the place where sadder happens. Things have not improved since I posted that photo four years ago.
Judy Protas may have been famous only within the insular world of New York advertising. But some of the ads she wrote, including the 20th-century classic “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” have been been famous across the country for more than half a century.
Ms. Protas, a retired executive at New York agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, died January 7 at 91. Margalit Fox wrote the obituary for the New York Times, which I commend to you.
Here’s Fox on the Levy’s campaign:
Though its evocative tagline is often credited to William Bernbach, a founder of DDB, or to Phyllis Robinson, the agency’s chief copywriter, period newspaper accounts and contemporary archival sources make clear that the actual writing fell to Ms. Protas, who, working quietly and out of the limelight, set down those dozen durable words.
We didn’t have Levy’s in California, so this may have been the first Judy Protas ad I ever saw:
The walls of the mezzanine of the Ohrbach’s store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles were decorated with ads like this one, which was far from current by the time I laid eyes on it. (The store, part of a New York-based chain, closed in 1987.) I remember my bemusement—a talking cat? in a fancy hat? with a cigarette holder?—and my delightthat this discount retailer valued advertisements highly enough to treat them as art. (Yes, I was an ad nerd even as a child.)
“Ohrbach’s … wanted to disabuse consumers of the notion that discount equaled déclassé,” writes Fox:
Beneath the headline — “I Found Out About Joan” — Ms. Protas’s copy went on, cattily, to describe the impecunious Joan’s pretensions to wealth before conceding, “She does dress divinely,” and concluding, “I just happened to be going her way and I saw Joan come out of Ohrbach’s!”
Protas also wrote the lyrics to the Cracker Jack jingle, “which in full (‘lip-smackin’, whip-crackin’, paddy-whackin’, knickin’-knackin’, silver-rackin’, scoundrel-whackin’, cracker-jackin’ Cracker Jack’) has the trochaic rush of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song,” writes the inimitable Fox.
“Picking a product name is all agony and no ecstasy,” writes Trello founder Dan Ostlund (“The Agonies of Picking a Product Name”). His detailed account of his own DIY effort is a cautionary tale, although he doesn’t explain why the company felt it necessary to jettison its perfectly good placeholder name.
Top executives writing about verbal branding may be a trend now. Here’s Larry D. Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, on how his organization developed a new tagline (“What’s in a Tagline?”):
When I first proposed reexamining the tagline, I felt almost sheepish. The Hewlett Foundation pays little attention to self-promotion (that itself is a core value here), so why bother putting time and effort into something so marginal. Instead, the project proved to be both interesting and fruitful—an opportunity to reaffirm and remind ourselves about who we are and who we want to be.
You’ll have to scroll down to the tenth paragraph to learn what the new tagline is. Otherwise, nice process story.
This parody trailer for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, aired during Sunday night’s live Golden Globes broadcast, and it was so smart and funny I wished I could hit the rewind button. AdFreak says the promo “does a double public service by also making fun of all the mass-media self-adulation that studios crank out during Hollywood awards season.”
The Oxford University Press blog has a comprehensive words-of-the-year roundup that includes words of the year in Spain, Norway, France, and elsewhere. I’m fond of “plénior,” the mot nouveau pour 2014; it’s a more positive word for “senior citizen” that implies “full of life.”
While we’re in Oxford, check out the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator, which scours the OED database for words’ first occurrences, 1900 through 2004, and offers up one for your birth year. If you were born in 1984, for example, your word is “shopaholic.” Happy 30th, you crazy shopper, you!
“Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.” That’s linguist Geoffrey Pullum in “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” It will be published later this year in the journal Language and Communication; but you can read the PDF now.Pullum cites 46 examples of tsk-tsking about “passive” constructions that aren’t passive at all.
Spenders of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your change.
A Bitcoin billboard in my neighborhood (Grand Avenue, Oakland), January 12. Yes, that’s a QR code. (Keep reading.)
The organization behind the sign, Arise Bitcoin, says its mission is “to start, support, and execute projects that promote the awareness of bitcoin to the general public.” It claims to have posted more than 40 billboards throughout the Bay Area since December 27, 2013. (According to Arise Bitcoin’s Twitter bio, the organization is based in Cleveland, Ohio.)
Another organization, BitcoinBillboards, has posted billboards in Los Angeles. According to BitcoinBillboards website, “QR codes do work on billboards! And … QR codes do work to send Bitcoins. PLEASE use common sense and do not attempt to scan while driving!”
Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. Image from BitcoinBillboards.
Bitcoin, in case you haven’t been reading my blog, is the virtual currency (or cryptocurrency, or altcoin) invented in 2009 by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The value of one bitcoin was about $900 yesterday.
Bitcoin’s popularity has inspired as many as 70 rival altcoins, according to a Bloomberg.com report. They include Coinye (named for singer Kanye West), Dogecoin (named for the doge meme), and RonPaulCoin, named for the libertarian former presidential candidate.
Have you seen any bitcoin billboards in your area?
We binge-watched revenge porn while leaning in and snacking on cronuts. We took a break from being selfie-absorbed (not to mention shelfie-, welfie-, and lelfie-) to cheer Batkid and jeer Glassholes. We ducked out of Thanksgivukkah dinner to vape our e-cigarettes. We worried about drones that spied on our metadata. Wow. Such doge!
It was the silliest of years, it was the most serious of years. And our favorite words expressed all the mood swings.
This Technology tip via brother Michael. Post title via Dorothy Parker.
* Which isn’t to say you can never use This in a name. Compare, for example, This Into That, the name of a small business in Berkeley that transforms old books into clever and useful objects such as clocks and key holders.
The lights, the carols, the shopping-mall Santas: verily, ’tis ’Tis the Season season once again. The ’tis-ing started early this year (mid-October!) and shows no sign of abating. In fact, this year I discovered a Tis the Season store—correction, “Christmas Shoppe”—in Millersburg, Ohio. (The apostrophe on that Tis is mysteriously missing.) And if the website design is any indication, this is a place to shoppe till you droppe in a queasy stupor.
Great news for researchers and thesaurus-lovers: the Historical Thesaurus of English is now fully online, with many new features. It’s based on the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements, with additional materials from A Thesaurus of Old English. (Via Marc Alexander.)
I linked to the Wordbirds blog back in 2009. Now this “irreverent lexicon for the 21st century” is available as a book containing more than 200 neologisms—150 of them not on the blog—coined by Liesl Schillinger and illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. An excellent gift for the person who finds himself rushing cell-mell to a clusterfete, wouldn’t you say?
On his excellent Big Apple blog, Barry Popik documents the rise of “spicedictive” (Sonic Drive-in’s portmanteau of “spice” and “addictive”) and “beefulness” (McDonald’s South Africa’s blend of “beef” and “fullness,” and yes, I thought it had something to do with beekeeping). By the way, you can finally follow Mr. Popik on Twitter!
You know what else got started 20 years ago? The “Got Milk?” ad campaign. Ad man Jeff Goodby, who was present at the creation, tells how “the most boring product imaginable” inspired “the most remembered tagline in beverage history, outstripping those of beer and soft drink companies with budgets many times the size of ours.” (Not mentioned in Goodby’s story: The campaign didn’t translate well into Spanish: “¿Tiene Ud. Leche?” means “Are you lactating?”)
In Canada, Dutch-owned bank ING Direct was sold to Scotiabank and is now called Tangerine. Design blog Brand New says the name choice is “ballsy”: “At first, the name sounds like a late 1990s, early 2000s doomed clever company name, like Monday, but the longer you watch the video ... and the more you let the name sink in, it’s a rather impressively sticky name. It’s memorable. It stand outs [sic] in the banking sector. It’s interesting.” Name development by Bay Area agency Lexicon; logo by Toronto-based Concrete.
William Germano and I have something in common: a minor obsession with gratuitous umlauts. Germano writes in Lingua Franca about “the rise of the reckless diacritical,” a meditation triggered by a sighting of Clöudz travel blankets and pillows. And it gets worse, writes Germano: “The Tommy Hilfiger clothing line has launched, with a linguistic swagger, a global marketing campaign entitled Cärpe-díem Mañana.” (Also see my Pinterest board of brand names with gratuitous umlauts and my Visual Thesaurus column on the Ündeniable Ümlaut.)