Saturday, April 26, 2008

Worst Print Ad in the History of the Universe

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.


Gino said...

in post acpocolyptic world, when i'm the last man, struggling to survive, i will be following the deer...

with a 30-06.

little-cicero said...

And the preparation of this venison will no doubt be alla cacciatore.

Gino said...

of course.
and the tomatos,shrooms,onions etc... can grow anywhere.

hey LC: i got tomato seedlings i'm planting from italy. some strain you cant get here. i started them from seeds dad brought back a few yrs ago. i'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

"Whom" will cease to exist in 50-100 years, akin to "thou" and the already near dead "shall."

Conform and you'll be happier.

kr said...

From your description of the visual, I have to wonder precisely why I would want to reach their implied goal anyhow ;).

Your rant was a laugh :). (As an aside, I disagree slightly on the proper re-punctuation ;). But you are more of a formalist than I.)

Rob: ;). It is a series of small tragedies that we are losing the gentler and rounder sounding words in our language for the more direct ones. How much more beautiful and intimate to call God "Thee" instead of "You" ... and to think of him calling me "thee" instead of that very push-away, separating "you." I don't think of it that way (never had the King James Bible in my background except via Shakespeare) ... but I am aware of the linguistical loss ... .

Back tot he ad:
The the real message of the ad ("You know we can think for you better than you will ever be able to"), to which you instinctively reacted with such (proper!) rejection, is frighteningly accurate to the messages conciously instilled into American compulsory school systems Back When (late 1800s). Many of their independence-destroying messages have taken root (witness continuing decline in literacy and analytical thinking, growth of the Cult of the Expert, general disenfranchisement ... ).

I wonder how many Americans will react with recognition of "reality" (as they "know" it) rather than rejection.

And I wonder how long before the evil in the system causes final collapse. (In local news, I think I'm a real cause of my parochial school crashing--I laid out for them why American education is actively evil, they chose to keep following it ... and they are losing students, just like I told them they would.)

I especially love that the deer is looking to lead us into the darkness instead of the light ...

The Law Fairy said...

In the elevator at my building we have weekly (if they bother replacing them) schmaltzy "words of wisdom"-type quotes to stare at as we wait to be dropped off at our respective floors. Recently they had one that said "It's not the position you stand, it's the direction you face."

Nails on a frakking chalkboard.

little-cicero said...

Language is every culture's first exercise in democracy. It seldom stays that way for the same reason democracies are never pure: the need for security in our intelligence and communications with others commands the oligarchy of grammarians or the tyranny of mass-media.

The question is, "What is the current relationship between the English language and those who use it?"

Correct punctuation? (:

kr said...

LC--interesting to see if the new democratization (internet et al) overcomes the grammarians and the media ... but then you know I am essentially a Christian-Communist ;).