I think what the copywriter may have been searching for was voilà! or aha! or presto! Alas, we’ll never know.
Now that my holiday jolliness has curdled, I may as well unload a few more complaints:
1. Why is she getting dressed the night before the party?
2. Enough with the ’twas-the-night-ing – and all the other rusty holiday clichés. (The subject line on this particular email, I’m sorry to say, was “’Tis the Season for Super Duper Shaping.” No, ’tain’t.)
3. If you’re going to parody a well-known poem*, you must at a minimum get the rhyme and meter right. “Snug” does not rhyme with “glove.”
Yes, consumers are more demanding, time-starved, informed, and choice-saturated than ever-before (we know you know). For brands to prosper, the solution is simple though: turn SERVILE. This goes far beyond offering great customer service. SERVILE means turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.
Is that in fact what “servile” means? No, it is not. Unlike most Trendwatching lingo—keep reading for examples—“servile” is a real word with real definitions and connotations. It isn’t a neutral term meaning “of service”; rather, it means “abjectly submissive,” “slavish,” “relating to servitude or forced labor.” Its synonyms are “obsequious,” “toadyish,” “sycophantic,” and “fawning.”
Not a positive association in the bunch. Indeed, the strong whiff of slavery that attends “servile” should disqualify the word from the marketing lexicon. It’s an adjective best reserved for Uriah Heep, one of Dickens’s least admirable characters, and others of his ilk.
Trendwatching—which calls itself “one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms”—has a decade-long record of coining attention-getting names, many of them peppy portmanteaus, to describe marketplace phenomena. Back in October 2010, the company devoted a trend briefing to what it called Brand Butlers. From what I can tell, “Servile Brands” is just a more offensive twist on “Brand Butlers.”
Trendwatching’s motto might as well be “X Is the New Y.” One trend briefing was titled “Catching-up is the new looking ahead.” Brand Butlers: “Serving is the new selling.” Nowism: “Why currency is the new currency.” And Servile Brands? “Why for brands, serving, assisting, and lubricating is the new selling.”
(A few words about “lubricating”: Back in 2004, Trendwatching used “daily lubricants” as a category title for “the fast growing class of products and services that cater to consumers' need for simplicity, and that literally lubricate daily life.” Um, OK. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of “lubricating” and “servility” can’t help sounding slightly smutty.)
Once in a blue moon, Trendwatching coins a term that catches on: Pop-up Retail (first used in January 2004), Massclusivity (November 2003). But for every one of those keepers there are 20 clunkers like Snobmoddities.
As for Servile Brands, off the top of my head I can think of several catchy-yet-more-appropriate alternatives: At Your Service, SuperServe Us, Serves You Right. Or, if they wanted to stay with the portmanteau theme, Servantage, Serveriffic, ServeAce, or Servalicious.
But “servile,” no matter how much you lubricate it, sticks in the craw.
In celebration of New York Fashion Week, which began yesterday, I present an article of clothing whose name expresses in a single word the blithe mishegas of la mode: the Bolshivek Dress.
It’s sold by All Saints, which spells it exactly that way and describes it thus:
The Bolshivek Dress features folded sequins in antique and matt black tones to create a lux 3D textured finish. Scattered beads in similar tones have been added to give additional depth and detailing. The Bolshivek Dress uses a fabric blend that contours the body to create a flattering silhouette.
Rise up, comrades, and recite the list of grievances!
1. It’s “Bolshevik,” not “Bolshivek.” The word means “majority” in Russian.
2. The Bolsheviks were a Marxist Communist party founded in 1903 by Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov in opposition to the czarist regime.
3. In the West during the Cold War, to label someone a Bolshevik was to disparage the person’s patriotism, loyalty, and personal hygiene.
4. Nothing about this dress suggests—to quote The Internationale—“workers of all nations” or “oppressed of the earth.” In fact, the heavy ornamentation and slinky shape—not to mention the $250 price tag—make it seem suspiciously bourgeois if not shockingly aristocratic.
As for the descriptive copy: “matte” and “luxe,” dear writer, not “matt” and “lux.”
Serious question: Does “ravage” have a positive meaning known only to bodybuilders (and unknown to me)? I mean, I get that sports-nutrition branding favors aggressive metaphors, but Ravage doesn’t say “power”; it says “grievous damage.”
Here are the other products in GNC’s Beyond RAW lineup:
Re-Feed, Re-Grow, Re-Power. Not pictured: Re-Forge, Rebuilt, Refine.
Which of these names doesn’t belong?
(On an unrelated note, how cute is it that these products come in flavors like Fruit Punch, Chocolate Brownie, and Vanilla Cake Batter?)
Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe you’re just supposed to relish the growling, roaring sound of “Ravage.” Certainly the product copy—larded with ballistic language—promises a superheroic outcome:
Within minutes of taking Ravage, you’ll experience the blitz of ingredients designed specifically to create blazing energy as you strive to achieve bare-knuckle intensity, chiseled vascularity, muscle hardness and sustained strength. … To stimulate mental focus and intensity, Ravage adds a cascade of metabolic intensifiers that ignite calorie burning and fatty acid metabolism to intensify your neural drive, so you can shatter records and punch through sticking points.* The results? Ferocious workouts, superior muscularity, and dominating athletic performance.*
As much as I love me some chiseled vascularity, I doubt that I’m in the target market for Ravage. Still, I can’t help wondering whether the product might be better served by a name that didn’t evoke rackandruin. Maybe “Revenge”—as in “living well is the best”—would have been more, um, fit.
* “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”
Jack the Ripper was infamous. Bernie Madoff is infamous. Alexis Bittar—a charming and talented jewelry designer whom I once met at a Saks Fifth Avenue trunk show—is not infamous. What he is is famous (First Lady Michelle Obama is a fan) if not yet quite a household word.
The Bittar copywriter made a surprisingly common error: assuming that the addition of in- to famous would create a superlative meaning “intensely famous.”* As I wrote in a May 2008 post, infamous is never a favorable word; it means “notorious, ill-famed, having an exceedingly bad reputation.” In legal contexts, it may mean:
a. Punishable by severe measures, such as death, long imprisonment, or loss of civil rights.
b. Convicted of a crime, such as treason or felony, that carries such a punishment.
And speaking of treason, I’d also have suggested a substitute for treacherously in the second sentence of the necklace copy. The word means “hazardously” or “in a manner capable of betrayal”; in this context it suggests, all too unpleasantly, “puncture of the carotid artery by means of pointy costume jewelry.” I think what’s intended here is something closer to “enticingly” or “thrillingly.” Or maybe the little daggers “quiver” from pendants, suggesting not only their delicacy but their resemblance to arrows.
“Like exactly what you’d expect in a casino that’s in Nevada, but not in Vegas.”
“Where everybody knows your name.”
“And everything looks just like everyone’s idea of a Nevada casino.”
“Hey, I’ve got it…”
If you prefer your clichés to include flashing lights and unclad young women, Harrah’s has a weirdly named attraction for you, too. Behold the VEX Nightclub.
Does nobody over there own a dictionary?
According to a case study on the Philips Color Kinetics website, the club’s design involved “the latest in LED lighting technology,” especially on “the club’s signature Go-Go dancer catwalks.” The LED sources are controlled by something called a Video System Engine and a DMX system, so maybe—I’m trying to be generous—VEX is some sort of abbreviated acronym.
Or maybe the dancers just pout a lot.
Hat tip to my knowledgeable friend Vicky for telling me about Cliché.
Americano Restaurant is a classy joint* in the Hotel Vitale, at the corner of Mission Street and The Embarcadero in San Francisco. It’s a place where customers are expected to know their confit, their brodo, their salumi, and their Grana Padano. Some of them may also know the correct definition of “arriviste.” However, the Americano’s managers apparently do not.
I took the best photograph I could of this sign, which is etched in glossy granite and mounted on a wall at the entrance to the restaurant. Here’s the text:
The ‘American Dreamers’ Series
Gazing upwards at our ceiling you will see commissioned photo-portraits of San Franciscan arrivistes from other lands; the latest generation of successful entrepreneurs (three of them are local restauranteurs) to live the American Dream and become ‘Americanos’.
The primary goof: “Arriviste”—from the French arriver, to arrive—does not mean what they think it means. It does not mean “arrival” or “newcomer”; rather, for more than a century it has meant “a pushy, ambitious person” or “an upstart,” someone intent on “arriving” in society. It has no positive connotations.
And as long as I’m being picky:
A person who owns or operates a restaurant is a restaurateur—no n. This is a good thing to memorize if you happen to own or operate a restaurant yourself.
Since we’re all Americanos here, let’s observe the American punctuation style: double quotation marks, period inside the quotation marks.
In American English, there is no s in upward (or backward, toward, forward, et al.).
That semicolon? Wrong. Make it a colon or an em dash.
The adjectival form of “San Francisco” here should be “San Francisco” (as in “San Francisco landmarks,” “San Francisco fog,” “the San Francisco treat”).
I’ve had only a light snack at Americano, so I can’t say whether the restaurant pays closer attention to cuisine than to editing. At least one critic, Amy Sherman, gave the restaurant a favorable review.
It sorta-kinda means what they think it means. And yet . . .
San Francisco Chronicle, page A10, November 7, 2010.
Yes, it’s our good friends at CapitalOne with a new print ad in the “New School Banking” campaign I wrote about last month. In the BART station ads (which are still up), CapOne mocked customers for banking “like an Egyptian” or “like a Pilgrim.” Now we’re presumably being told not to bank like our beloved bubbe and zayde.
I refer, of course, to that word bupkus, which can also be transliterated as bupkes, bobkes, bobkis, or any of several other spellings. It’s a Yiddish word (originally from Russian), that Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish, carefully tells us means “something trivial, worthless, insultingly disproportional to expectations.” In the ad, bupkus is used as a synonym for “nothing.” Rosten translates it as “beans,” adding that these beans are not the kind you put in the soup pot.
Bupkes means “nothing,” all right, but it’s a rather specific kind of nothing, as different from gornisht, the dictionary Yiddish for “nothing,” as “nothing” itself is from “sweet fuck-all.” The basic meaning of bupkes . . . is dung, specifically the dung of sheep or goats. Like the English “bullshit” or “horseshit,” bupkes was once fairly widespread as an expression of disbelief. A response of bupkes meant that you thought someone was talking nonsense; whatever he was saying, it was crap. . . .
Like much of the Yiddish that has found its way into English, bupkes has been downgraded from vulgar to cute; but unless you were discussing barnyard waste, you’d try to avoid the word in polite Yiddish conversation.
It’s not as though bupkes hasn’t already surfaced in polite American conversation. Back in 1965, there was an episode of The Dick Van Dyke show titled “Bupkis”; it centered on a song (also titled “Bupkis”) that Rob (Van Dyke) and his buddy had written during their army days.* Bupkes—along with a lot of other Yiddish words—has also been uttered on The Simpsons (notably by Krusty the Clown, the son of a rabbi).
And Yiddish has cropped up in a few ads, too: See my April 2010 on spritz as it’s used in ads for Poise pads (for “light bladder leakage”).
But as far as I can tell, this is a breakthrough (you should pardon the expression) for financial-services advertising. I’m not sure, though, whether it’s cause for kvellingor kvetching.