This outdoor ad is composed of simple English words, 10 of which have only one syllable. And yet it’s enigmatic nearly to the point of unintelligibility.
“Now goes viral, then scrambles to scale. Next means everyone goes to the launch party.”
And pop goes the weasel?
I spotted the sign on Van Ness Avenue, near San Francisco’s Civic Center and some distance from Google headquarters (35 miles away), Pier 48 (four miles away and the site of the Google Cloud Platform Users Conference, which begins today), or any other relevant landmark. It’s a short stroll from the ad to the symphony hall and opera house, but I doubt music aficionados are in the target demographic.
Here, for the benefit of everyone who isn’t fluent in Techlish, is my attempt at decryption:
1. Read now and next as nouns (examples of anthimeria, or functional shift).
2. Now = focused on the short term. Businesses that focus only on what’s happening now will at some point in the future have to scramble to scale (= get bigger).
3. Goes viral = gets a lot of people talking, usually through social media. (Talking, not buying.)
4. Next = focused on the near future.
5. The launch party. Businesses that focus on what’s happening next are successful; they pocket huge venture-capital investments and thus have enough cash to throw lavish, self-congratulatory launch parties to which they invite all their employees, not just the big shots.*
This is some high-level Silicon Valley Speak, also known as bullshit. It’s part Zen koan (what is the sound of one now imploding?), part self-conscious language “disruption,” part (I suspect) editing by committee.
For further insights, I refer you to Nick Asbury of the London branding agency Asbury & Asbury, who wrote recently about “hashtag-driven brand lines that make no sense,” like Stella Artois’ “Be Legacy” and Lenovo’s “The Do Inside.” (I’ve written about that Lenovo tagline myself.)
Here’s a snippet from Nick’s post:
To be fair, there’s a valid reason for brand lines to be ungrammatical. Their job is to disrupt language and therefore become jagged and memorable – look at ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’.
But if all slogans are disrupting language in exactly the same way, by nouning verbs and verbing nouns, you know a certain groupthink has set in. And that’s the opposite of disruptive – it’s mindlessly conventional.
A fetish for hashtags is largely to blame, driving brands to try to capture ‘big’ thoughts in a few characters, and usually saying nothing as a result – all in the semi-mystical belief that it will inspire customers to join in a conversation.
More about the magical thinking around “disruption” – this time from me – here.
* Admittedly tangential, but I find it depressing that “everyone goes to the launch party” is identified here as a worthy business goal.
My years of doing legal review of tech companies' documents have left me with no patience for this kind of self-referential, self-congratulatory jargon. I swear my blood pressure spikes every time I visit the bay area and see signage like this.
Posted by: Jessica | March 23, 2016 at 06:09 AM
My main difficulty was that, having successfully read now as a noun, I couldn’t decide whether I was supposed to do the same with then. The fact that there’s a comma rather than a semicolon there points to no, but the familair collocational pairing of now and then (e.g., “That was then; this is now”) makes it a salient possibility.
Posted by: Q. Pheevr | March 23, 2016 at 07:33 AM
Q. Pheevr: Good point about "then"! Now (heh) that I think about it, that was probably my first trip-up as well.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 23, 2016 at 08:07 AM
Perhaps I'm just too insider, but once I'd grokked that "now" and "next" are nouns, this all makes perfect sense to me. If we rephrase this using the much-quoted words of the hockey star Wayne Gretzky, it becomes "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
> I find it depressing that “everyone goes to the launch party” is identified here as a worthy business goal.
That's synechdoce: the fact of a launch party means you've actually launched. In fact, most startups never get that far. The point of a wedding is not the wedding, but the marriage. (Also sometimes forgotten by the participants, but oh well.)
Posted by: mike | March 26, 2016 at 09:42 AM
the launch party. barf.
Posted by: kelly | March 27, 2016 at 10:08 PM