CLOSED TEMPORALLY, says the sign on the door of an Abercromie & Fitch – “a prime example of how the wrong word can sometimes be so absolutely right,” Karrie Higgins notes.
But sometimes the right words can be wrong. Trying to leave a Target store the other day, I was confused by the set of doors marked ENTER | DO NOT ENTER. A little unintended koan, it probably captures the feelings many people have about shopping in big box stores. Or, heck, about shopping in general, mixed messages being so much a part of mass marketing culture. Drink beer – be athletic. Lose weight – feel good about yourself. Feel secure – buy a new burglar alarm system. Be uniquely yourself – or risk total unhipness. Like, whatever, you know?
I had stopped in to use the bathroom and get a drink at the water fountain. I was looking for a pay phone, too, but the near-ubiquity of cell phones has virtually eliminated phone booths from the American landscape. Given the new, inexplicable popularity of bottled water – often more contaminated than tap water – can public water fountains be far behind?
THERE IS NOTHING HERE WORTH YOUR LIFE, says the sign on a derelict building in an almost-ghost town in western Utah. Would these words seem as appropriate on the front door of a still-thriving Target store? Clearly, somebody’s life is at stake. Who’s wearing the bull’s-eye?
There is nothing here… With our thinking so conditioned by decades of mass marketing, such straightforward assertions sound hopelessly outdated, derelict. I used to smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes, a once-popular brand with a red-and-white bull’s-eye logo virtually identical to Target’s and a slogan that betrayed its dinosaur status: “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” The problem with that kind of claim is that it’s too easy to disprove – though perhaps if delivered with the appropriate level of apparent conviction, it might qualify as truthiness. From what I hear, none of the more sophisticated tricks of the marketer’s trade hit the mark anymore; nothing short of product placement seems to work with the youngest and most desirable demographic. So maybe advertising should follow the lead of political discourse and return to its origins in the bald-faced lie. It might have a certain retro chic.
People always tell pollsters they want straight-talking politicians, but then people never tell pollsters what they really think, only what they think they should think. Because in fact the rare political candidate who speaks the truth pleases no one. Who wants to be told that they can’t eat their cake and have it too? We want to hear that there will be enough of everything for everyone forever.
Truth is like water: necessary, yes, but bland, and nearly impossible to over-indulge in. A marketing challenge! And you know that the marketers are winning when you start to find discarded water bottles floating in the creek. True, the water in the creek probably isn’t safe to drink anyway. It’s most likely aswarm with giardia cysts, thanks to our favorite hoofed consumers of the forest. “Deer Park,” says the label on the bottle. Indeed.
O monks, there are two paths which seekers of Truth should not follow. One is the path of habitual devotion to passion and sensual pleasures, which is base, ordinary, leading to rebirth, ignoble and unprofitable. The other is the path of self-mortification and extreme asceticism which is also painful, ignoble and unprofitable. Thus the first words of the Buddha’s first sermon at the Deer Park in Varanasi. “Unprofitable”? Hardly!
Have Deer Park Brand Natural Spring Water delivered to your door from about $1 a day! IT’S NEVER BEEN EASIER! Thus the home page of the Deer Park Brand Natural Spring Water website. Believe that, and I have a municipal water privatization scheme to sell you. Change the shape of what kids drink… with the all new Aquapod bottle! It’s not just water, it’s differently shaped water.
What would a marketing campaign for truth look like? Not truthiness, but real, virtually tasteless, hard-to-get-a-handle-on truth. Could a crack marketing team make it palatable again? Given its current scarcity, creating demand shouldn’t be a problem. I’m guessing the words “pure” and/or “natural” would have to be featured; images of happy, healthy white people would be optional. Would this truth be “unvarnished”? Probably not. But whatever, you know?
Because with truth, you can have it your way. Truth: whatever works! Unknowable… naturally. Temporally closed.