The May issue of National Geographic, devoted entirely to China, features a visually arresting full-color double-page ad from The Hartford. It's a shot of what appears to be the entrance to a subterranean romanesque hall -- which in reality, I'm pretty sure, is actually the arcade at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Dead leaves are scattered around, the place is deserted, and the sun appears to be setting. All in all, a beautiful, if somewhat ominous image, literally littered with symbols of death.
At the top of the staircase stands a lone proud stag, The Hartford's mascot, gazing off into the horizon away from the sunset, toward the onset of darkness (actually, he'd be looking at the Boat Pond).
All that is well and good, if a bit morbid for an insurance ad. But forget that. Let's skip to the slogan:
The question isn't how do you reach your goal, it's who do you follow?
Oh, my God.
Seriously? Where shall I start? Um, how about with PUNCTUATION and GRAMMAR?
Whom. Whom, people.
As it's written, it looks like the speaker is asking for clarification. "So," you might wonder, "the question isn't how do you reach your goal, it's who [sic] do you follow?" See, now their punctuation makes sense. But that's not, I presume, what they are trying to convey.
The phrase sounds better than it's ever going to look on paper.
The question isn't, "How do you reach your goal?" It's, "Whom do you follow?"
Technically that's correct, but it is admittedly ungainly. They could, of course, have avoided this whole conundrum if they'd stopped to notice the appalling vapidity of the sentiment.
This is supposed to sound wise? It's counterintuitive at best; foolish, and even dangerous, at worst. It seems to presuppose that all the great American virtues -- self-reliance, independence, stubbornness, vision, courage -- are secondary, or perhaps counterproductive. What we really need is to gamble on someone else and hope they'll take us where we want to go. It sounds less -- much less -- like a tried and true proverb than the mantra of some cult of mind-control.
Now let's paste this idiotic notion back onto the ad. Basically it reads like this: in a post-apocalyptic world, when you're the last human alive, cowering for shelter in the ruins of Manhattan as night approaches, follow the deer. He knows what to do.
Because if there's one thing you can trust, it's an insurance company.