Heroes:Quidsi, the parent company of a clutch of e-tailers (Diapers.com, Soap.com, Look.com, et al.), thinks very highly of its workforce and “culture.” Its employees aren’t just model citizens. They aren’t merely heroes. They’re superheroes! With … superpowers?
Food portmanteaus: Taco Bell is testing a quesarito (a hybrid quesadilla/burrito), which will come as old news to Chipotle customers. The owners of a couple of Shoprite markets in New Jersey claim to have invented the donnoli (hybrid donut/cannoli). At the Donut Fest in Chicago back in January, an NPR reporter tasted a doughscuit (“an impossible mix of doughnut-fried sweetness and crumbly biscuitness”) And the Portland, Maine, bakery Little Bigs got slapped down in its attempt to sell a cronut imitation as a crauxnut. Little Bigs asked customers to suggest a new name. The winner: C&D (for “cease and desist”).
And this just in: The New York Timesreports on the cragel (croissant + bagel), the mallomac (Mallomar + macaron), the scuffin (scone + muffin), and other hybrid baked goods.
I admit I don’t understand why a golf club would be called RocketBallz. (The name of another TaylorMade club, RocketBladez, makes more sense.) But that’s just one of the many, many things about golf I shall never understand. For example, who are the guys in the ad? Advertising logic tells us they are famous golfers who are instantly recognizable to fans; to this viewer, however, they’re just a bunch of bad actors in dorky outfits.
I am somewhat more clueful about the ad’s language, which riffs on the comparative suffix “-ier.” In the space of 30 seconds we’re treated to huge-ier, smash-ier, long-ier, so-sweet-ier, money-ier (that’s “money” as in “so money,” as in Swingers), nothing-on-that-ier, way-better-ier, quieter-ier, good-to-be-you-ier, and, of course, RocketBallz-ier, a play on “ballsy.”
It gets suffix-ier: TaylorMade is using the #ier hashtag to identify and, um, “socialize” the campaign. From the TaylorMade Tour blog:
To help celebrate the official Tour launch of the RBZ [RocketBallz] Stage 2 fairway woods and Rescues, every TaylorMade pro competing in this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship will be using a new special edition staff bag featuring an “IER” panel – their names, plus IER – as well as wearing hats and visors with the hashtag #IER on the front of the hats.
I’m aware of at least two other brands that have created ad campaigns built around the “-ier” suffix: Perrier and Napier. In both of those cases, the connection between the brand names and the ad copy – which used real adjectives like “riskier” and “snakier,” not invented ones – felt authentic and boosted the brands’ memorability. It’s harder to make a connection between “good-to-be-you-ier” and RocketBallz. (Commenter Steve Hall remembered the advertiser as Callaway, a TaylorMade competitor!)
TaylorMade uses a clumsy “X Just Got Y” sloganclone toward the end of the spot: “Our longest just got longest-ier.” (More “X Just Got Y” examples here, here, and here.)
No, not someone who lives in Mobile, Alabama. It’s another spin of the faux-comparative-maker machine.
“The Mobile Phone Just Got Mobiler.” Ad for Delta mobile app, back cover, The Atlantic, April 2013.
This particular ad is the only one I’ve seen that uses word play; other ads for the mobile app use a straightforward benefit approach (and depict the QR code that’s the whole point of the pitch). It’s always a little unsettling when an advertiser code-switches within a campaign.
Last week Google announced that it’s pulling the plug on Google Reader, which for years has allowed people like me to subscribe to, organize, and quickly scan dozens or even hundreds of blogs and websites with RSS feeds. “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined,” was the summary judgment. Cue gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.
I recall going through a similar period of mourning a few years ago when Bloglines shut down. After I made the switch to Google Reader I figured I was safe, which proves how little I know about capitalism and its discontents. Now, like the rest of the loyal followers, I’m searching for a Google Reader replacement. Suggestions welcome.*
In the meantime some eager minion at Prismatic noticed my public jeremiad and solicited my business via tweet. Here’s what I saw when I clicked the link:
Hey there, Prismatic: You’re missing a comma after “Hey there.”
Prismatic isn’t what I’m looking for – I want lists and folders, not a newspaper layout – but I do admire “Readerer.” I’ve written about other -erers – funnerer, gooderer, creamier-er, closerer, Maker’s-er, dumberer, et al. – but “Readerer” is the first agentive -erer that’s caught my attention.
My post earlier this week about Hipmunk’s “funner-er” ad prompted a couple of readers to contribute other examples of super-comparative coinages in advertising.
From HildebrandBurke, a new Twitter friend, I learned about KFC Australia’s recent “Goodest Get Together” promotion, an extension of the international “So Good” slogan. The agency, Ogilvy, went a little nuts inventing new words for this explanatory video:
“You simply take a good thing, emgooden it, and voilà—you’ve made it gooderer, as in ‘That’s the gooderest thing I’ve ever tasted!’”
Yeah, it’s pretty silly*, but even sillier (sillierest?) is the utter absence of brand referents. No food, no restaurants, no happy customers—what’s the deal? And why should I care?
Here in the U.S., reader Jenne reported seeing a store promotion that used the slogan “Make it creamier-er-er.” “Sadly,” Jenne wrote, “this explosion of ‘er’ did not make me remember what the product was.”
It was Kraft Natural Shredded Cheese.
Now, I understand that advertisers are constantly looking for new ways to say “superlative.” And I certainly don’t have a problem with wordplay and word invention. But I’m tired of the copycatting. When Android used “funner-er” back in 2008, it got attention. Then, in 2010, a bunch of companies hopped on the bandwagon: BlackBerry used “closer-er,” Captain Morgan used “delicious-er,” and Old Spice coined “fresherer” and “freshershist” [sic!]. Last year Maker’s Mark tried to sell us on “Maker’s-er” and United Airlines flew “worldwider.” Now Hipmunk is recycling “funner-er.”
It’s getting, shall we say, tedious-er.
Sticking an -er or an -est on an adjective doesn’t tell me you’re creative. It’s no longer a way to stand out from the competition. All it says is that you’re too lazy to do some truly original thinking about what your brand means.
* I give partial credit to “emgooden,” but it’s not as good as “embiggen,” whose coinage is usually attributed to “Simpsons” writer Dan Greaney, who used it in a 1996 episode. In fact, the first citation for “embiggen” appeared in 1884.
Something about this Hipmunk ad seemed familiar to me.
San Francisco Muni bus, May 20, 2012.
Then I remembered: Back in 2008 Google introduced its first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. The ad for the phone was, as Ben Zimmer wrote for Language Log, “packed with jocular comparative adjectives: smarterer, connecteder, funnerer.” Ben went on:
Jobs died last year, the iPod Touch website no longer includes a reference to “funnest” (it now says “It has fun written all over it”), and the G1 has evolved into the G2X. But “funner-er” lives on at Hipmunk, the San Francisco startup founded in 2010—a generation removed, in tech years, from that 2008 Android campaign.
You may be wondering about the Hipmunk name. Here’s a story about it from TechCrunch, reproduced verbatim with the usual caveat about TechCrunch’s slack writing and editing:
Like many startups in today’s Silicon Valley*, [co-founder Adam] Goldstein was struggling to find an apropo domain that was topical and more importantly, available. After dangerously flirting with (and even purchasing) domains like BouncePounce.com and Trot.me, Goldstein’s girlfriend** told him to identify a cute mammal that he could build a brand around. Hipmunk fit the bill.
You’ll notice something missing from this origin story: an explanation of how Chipmunk (I presume) became Hipmunk. I gather that Chipmunk.com wasn’t available and (“more importantly”) no one was willing to part with cash for (a) domain negotiations or (b) professional naming services. Or maybe the founders just wanted to emphasize their hipness. A follow-up question from the reporter would have been helpful.
I wrote about another super-comparative coinage—“Maker’s-er,” from Maker’s Mark—in a September 2011 post.
* Hipmunk is in San Francisco, not Silicon Valley. Different area code, more fog, etc., etc.
** I’m sorry to keep sticking it to TechCrunch, but who was doing the dangerous flirting and purchasing—Goldstein or his girlfriend? Dangling modifiers: use at your own (and your readers’) peril.
You can’t blame Kentucky distillery Maker’s Mark for wanting to pile on the superlatives in an ad for Maker’s 46, the company’s first new bourbon in more than half a century. “Bigger, “bolder,” “spicier”—sure. But “Maker’s-er”? Er … what’s up with that?
Financial District, San Francisco, Sept. 10, 2011.
To me, “Maker’s-er” sounds like something you might slur to the bartender on your way to being 46ed—sorry, 86ed—from the saloon. It looks peculiar, too, because of the possessive -’s butting heads, or tails, with the comparative -er. Of course, “peculiar-looking-and-sounding” can be a good thing if it enhances memorability—or even, best of all possible worlds, becomes a meme.
The trouble is, this particular meme isn’t new or original. Like it or not, “Maker’s-er” follows a comparative-and-superlative-coining trend that’s been sputtering along for a few years. Back in 2008, Ben Zimmer wrote a Language Log post about an Android campaign that invented connecteder, smarterer, and funnerer. In July 2010 I wrote aboutcloserer (in an ad for BlackBerry Messenger) and deliciouser (in a campaign for Captain Morgan Lime Bite). And in March of this year Ben Zimmer wrote in the Visual Thesaurus about a TV spot for the laundry detergent Gain that caused a little fuss with its use of gooder. Phrases such as “the decay of our youth” were mobilized.
But back to Maker’s 46, which has tinkered with the coin-a-comparative formula by appending -er to its own brand name rather than to some other adjective. (Brand names are adjectives, legally speaking.*) The new bourbon has gotten some good reviews (Alcohology: “a body matured like Sophia Loren in her late 30’s”; Drink Spirits: “builds on the excellent foundation of Maker’s Mark and represents a big step forward”); it retails for $35 to $40 for a 750ml bottle. Where, I wondered, did the name come from? The number of years it took to develop the bourbon? No. Alcoholic proof? Nope. (It’s 94, or 47 percent alcohol by volume.) The number of some rural route in Loretto, Kentucky, where Maker’s Mark is located? No again. Here with the answer is an Associated Press story about the brand’s 2010 release:
The product’s name is a tip of the cap to the brand’s barrel maker and one of its top executives, who came up with the unique idea of using seared French oak planks inside the barrel to draw out more flavors. The product’s name reflects the profile number attached to the process.
* Actually, they’re attributive modifiers. See this 2004 Language Log post by linguist Geoffrey Pullum. The gist: “Attributive modifiers are nearly always optional, so if you have dutifully used your trademarks as attributive modifiers throughout, you should find that when you leave the trademark words out, things still make sense without any change in the grammatical structure of what is said.” Hat tip: Ben Zimmer.
The design of this poster is striking, but the slogan rings false. I don’t object on principle to the invented “closerer,” but “closer friends” made me jump to “loser friends” and then to the immortal “Coffee’s for closers only.”
“Beer . . . it’s delicious,” purrs the Spanish-accented voiceover. “But could it be deliciouser?” The answer is “jess,” of course.* In the few seconds remaining, the spot also introduces “ridiculicious” and “brohemoth.” (Another spot in the series uses “brochacho,” a blend of “bro” and “muchacho.” Bro- is the man-word prefix du jour.)
It's called "station domination"--the practice of renting every available surface in one of downtown San Francisco's underground BART stations to a single advertiser. Results have been mixed; I remember entering one station a couple of years ago during the famous Dove Intensive Firming Cream campaign and being surrounded by images of beaming, near-naked, cellulite-free giantesses. Unsettling, it was.
This week, though, the Montgomery Street BART station is dominated by Perrier, the century-old mineral water company that last made significant waves here in the 1980s. Last October the company launched a fizzy new ad campaign that has finally gone subterranean. The copy tweaks the famous Perrier logo and name by substituting English-language adjectives: crazier, flirtier, sassier. It's clever enough on paper, but look at how effective it is on these signs:
That's "Easier" over the escalator, "Speedier" over the stairs.
While you're waiting for your train, you can enjoy the childlike line drawings and verbal humor of the wall posters:
For those of you of a certain age, the Perrier ads may recall a long-running print ad campaign for Napier costume jewelry. That campaign also played bilingual games with the -ier suffix, as in a 1974 ad currently for sale on eBay:
Other headlines read "Napier Is Sexier," "Napier Is Earthier," and so on. In this case, the word play was a pronunciation guide, telling us to say NAY-pee-ur. I'm not certain Perrier actually wants us to say man-lee-AY, but maybe we can start something.