Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shakespeare was wrong

      What's in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet…

That's what you think, Will. Those crazy Elizabethans knew nothing of marketing. The name's the thing, not the play. Poor Shakespeare had to muddle through with no marketing department, no focus groups. Nobody to tell him that "Hamlet" was a better name for a fast-food breakfast item than a protagonist—and, good fellow, that ending is such a downer.

We are more fortunate. If you want to know who we are as a people, look at ads. Advertising and marketing offer the truest mirror we could gaze in. It tells us what are the fairest dreams of our imagining.

So it is interesting to see trends in ads. One that currently puzzles me is teeth-whitening procedures. There are any number of methods to get the pearly-whites whiter (and, incidentally, less pearly, since pearls are not bright white). It is not surprising that we want whiter teeth (although sometimes the unnatural whiteness can be startling).

What is fascinating is that the advertising for these methods almost never mentions teeth. Instead, they brightly talk about whitening your smile. Once I began to pay attention I have seen/heard lots of pitches for whitening products, but not one used the T word.

Is there something wrong with the word “teeth”? When did we decide we needed a euphemism for them? I don't quite get it. It reminds me of the Victorian bluenoses who insisted on referring to "limbs" because they could not bring themselves to say "legs."

The capper came in an e-mail from WebMD, with the topic "How Diabetes Affects Your Smile." Since the effects were to the gums, it seems the euphemism is spreading. Where will it end? As Will Shakespeare pointed out (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII) we all end "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vehicles of Vanity

Did you know there is a snazzy new technology that allows you to contact people you spot tooling down the highway, or cutting you off in the mall parking lot, by keying in the auto license plate number? Me, either, until a couple of weeks ago when I saw the founder of BUMP—the name of this new "online community"—on Larry Kudlow's show. Think of it as a truly mobile Facebook.

Somehow I don't think there will be a lot of "friending" going on. Still, the company has cheery expectations for car-to-car communications. The Web site says "A survey undertaken by indicates that more than a third of respondents are interested in networking with people in other cars."

They may be right. I have been amazed by the success of a lower-tech version of "car-to-car communication"—the vanity license plate. As someone little interested in proclaiming my view of myself or my surroundings on the rear of my conveyance, I have watched the proliferation of vanity plates with some bemusement. Two questions pop into my mind when I see them: What are they trying to say to me? And why?

Some plates are easy to understand. Here in the Football Capital of the Known Universe, there are many that let passersby know which team the car owners root for, as though the bumper stickers, door magnets and window flags weren't enough of a clue. Then there's GMOTHER, GRLZCAB, LUV4TY, and the SmartCar known as LTL GUY.

But so many plates only mystify. What to make of PMOMMY? Yes, toilet training is a trying time, but unless your name is Duggar, it passes soon enough. Or the Honda Civic labelled FITSME. If you've ballooned from XXL to hatchback, it's time to hit the gym, dude. How about CME4ICE? Is there really such a job as ice salesman?

Some plates have charm even if I don't know what they're trying to communicate. I like the Range Rover that proclaims MOBETTR, the silver sedan greeting fellow drivers with L-CHAIM, and the Mini with the I {Heart} NY bumper sticker and GROUCHO plate. I also want to hear the story of the driver who chose MOR2IT as her license plate.

Others are just scary. I kept a good two car-lengths back from the car sporting the SCREWIT plate. The Silverado dubbed NFORCER was worrisome, and the venerable Buick in need of a paint job was sketchy enough without the addition of the MTHR5HP plate.

But if I sign up with BUMP, I know the first plate I'll dial. I've only seen that pickup truck once, but I've been wondering about it ever since. What does it mean? Why? Please explain your vanity plate, LEGMAKR.