Because that’s what we’re talking about this week. Don’t worry, though: I’m going to stay in my lane. Mostly.
In case you’ve been tuning out the news, and who could blame you: On Monday, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito for the majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, confirmed what many of us have been gloomily anticipating for years: that the precedents established in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), long considered settled law, are about to be jettisoned. “The immediate impact of the ruling as drafted in February would be to end a half-century guarantee of federal constitutional protection of abortion rights and allow each state to decide whether to restrict or ban abortion,” wrote Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward for Politico.
I believe abortion is health care. I support abortion access for anyone who needs it. But I’m not a lawyer or a legislator, so I’m using this platform to share some resources about my own specialty: language, messaging, and branding, all of which have played, and continue to play, outsize roles in the ongoing fight for safe and legal abortions.
This month I’ve been reading Stiffed: The Roots of Modern Male Rage, by Susan Faludi. Actually, I’ve been re-reading it; the book was originally published in 1999 with the subtitle The Betrayal of the American Man and was reissued in 2019 with a new author’s foreword that adds a Trump-era, #MeToo perspective. Faludi is a superb researcher, interviewer, and writer (and believe me, that’s a tough trifecta), and Stiffed—what a perfect title—holds up shockingly well. Faludi’s mid-1990s reporting took her to Vietnam veterans, diehard Cleveland Browns fans, an Alternatives to Violence group, laid-off defense workers, and meetings of Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s association. She investigates the post-World War II redefinition of masculinity as “something to drape over the body, not draw from inner resources” and to be “displayed, not demonstrated.” I couldn’t help reflecting on Stiffed when I read a recent New York Times roundtable discussion with eight men who described themselves as politically conservative and who repeatedly expressed a wistful longing for days gone by—the same days, some 25 years ago, that Faludi wrote about: a time of layoffs and gang violence and painful domestic rifts. Moral: Beware the nostalgia trap and the Golden Age fallacy; there never were any good old days, except for the ones that seemed good because you were a little kid and didn’t know any better. (You may also be interested in the letters to the editor about that roundtable discussion. I’ve unlocked both links so that nonsubscribers can access them.)
There’s a famous saying, often attributed to American department-store pioneer John Wanamaker*, that half of what you spend on advertising is wasted—you just never know which half.
Well, here’s a lamentable, preventable example of a waste of 100 percent of a company’s ad budget.
New And Astonishingly Dumbfounding Advertising Mystery!
This bus-shelter ad is one of four in my neighborhood—four within a single one-mile stretch of not-very-grand Grand Avenue in Oakland, California. The advertiser is New York-based Naadam—or NAADAM, as it’s styled on the website. But the name has been given a strange makeover in this bus-shelter ad, where it looks like an acronym: N.A.A.D.A.M. The all-caps line under the initialized brand name reads “ᴅᴏɴ’ᴛ ᴅᴏ ᴄᴀsʜᴍᴇʀᴇ. ɪᴛ’s ᴀᴅᴅɪᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ”
As a couple of my puzzled Twitter followers asked, “Is ‘Cashmere’ a new street drug?”
Last week it was knickers, which I’d spotted, in clipped and diminutive forms, in two corporate names, Knix and Knickey. Yesterday’s mail (perhaps I should now be saying post?) brought an oversize card whose solicitation includes two more Britishisms: bum and loo.
I’m ashamed to confess that until I read her New York Times obituary over the weekend I’d never heard of Laurel Cutler, who had a distinguished five-decade career on Madison Avenue and was named both “Woman of the Year” and “Man of the Year” by the American Advertising Federation. (Quite an achievement!) She died at age 94 on November 28, 2021.
The obit reads like a mini-history of mid-20th-century advertising, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. (My link bypasses the Times paywall.) One bit, though, stood out for me: the story of how Prego spaghetti sauce got its name:
The most important role she played in the Prego campaign, she told Inc. magazine in 1987, “was convincing them to change the name from Campbell’s Very Own Spaghetti Sauce, which was very much a 1970s concept, to Prego, which was much more ’80s.” The day before she had to present her proposal for a name, she scanned an English-Italian dictionary and plucked out “prego,” which means both “please” and “you’re welcome.”
Grazie, Laurel Cutler!
Ms. Cutler was also a futurist whose many accurate predictions included the “high-low” shopping trend: “‘The very same people would buy at Neiman Marcus in the morning and Kmart in the afternoon,’ she told Inc.”
It was quite a rise from an 80-cents-an-hour entry-level job as a contest judge at the marketing firm Reuben Donnelly.
Ms. Cutler’s 2016 memoir was never published. Maybe that oversight will be corrected now.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and happy fourth week of November to everyone else.
My book recommendation this month is The Confidence Men, by Margalit Fox, the riveting true story of two British officers’ escape from an “escape-proof” Turkish POW camp—“the Alcatraz of its day,” Fox writes—toward the end of World War I. What makes their story amazing is how they did it: no tunnels, no violence, no weapons except for a homemade Ouija board and the two men’s skill at psychological manipulation.
I love a prison-escape story, and Fox tells this tale expertly, and Richard Elfyn, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to, rises to the occasion, switching between accents and occasionally reading passages in Welsh. But just as interesting as the escape itself are the conditions that enabled it. In his paywalled review for the New York Review of Books, Neal Ascherson writes:
Persuading people to like something is a trade. Persuading them to change their minds and like something else is a skill. But inducing them to believe in something that their senses and experience tell them is plainly unreal or untrue—unicorns, papal infallibility, Trump’s assertions, ghosts—requires art and almost manic self-confidence. The “confidence men” of Margalit Fox’s title, two British prisoners of war who planned the most eccentric and devious of all escapes, had plenty of both. But Fox puts their story into a broad historical setting, using it to illustrate the ways in which scientific inventions made possible not only empowerment but also credulity and manipulation.
Throwback Thursday! Remember when I first wrote about an ad that used the catchphrase “… said no one ever”? It was in February 2016; here’s the link. Five years later, said no one is still being said by almost everyone, ad nauseam. As proof, I bring you two companies and two outdoor ads currently installed at opposite ends of San Francisco.
Earlier this week I received a fundraising email whose salutation was “Look,” which seemed just a little … testy. But what do I know; I was schooled in the “Dear Sir or Madam” era. It made me wonder which forms of address are acceptable in 2021, which are a little edgy, and which are too quaint to be taken seriously.
“Dear ___,” it goes without saying, now falls into the third category—in correspondence, anyway. When traveling grammar advisor Ellen Jovin conducted a Twitter poll last year, the “Dear ___” salutation received zero votes.
What percentage of your work emails begin with the word "Dear"?