Flying Air France will make you happy if you're a frog. But watch out for the guillotine in business class.
While reading the newspaper at breakfast yesterday I saw this Air France ad, featuring a woman in a frog costume hopping in the air, with a tagline reading “HAPPY LEGS!”
I thought the ad was cute and catchy in its retro simplicity, but mostly I loved that they seem to be playing on frog as a derogatory term for a French person and/or the stereotype that the French eat frog legs all day.*
At lunch I opened The Economist and found another Air France ad:
This one shows a woman in a princess gown sprawled out in a reclining airline seat fitted with carrying poles like a sedan chair, plopped down on a gravel path at a palace garden. The visuals evoke the opulence and elegance of Marie Antoinette, but the tagline is “REVOLUTIONARY COMFORT.”
Talk about a mixed metaphor! If I remember my French history correctly the revolution wasn’t very comfortable and didn’t end well for the people riding around in sedan chairs and wearing fancy gowns. I immediately imagined a guillotine waiting to receive the princess. Something like this, in fact:
The ads are from Air France’s new “France is in the Air” campaign (read and see more here, if you’re curious and don’t have Google). Thank god they’re no longer using their “Gross Giant Toes are in the Air” ad from 2000:
France may be in the air, but (speaking of national stereotypes) Air France isn’t right now: the pilots are on strike, staging their own little revolution.
The British started calling the French “frogs” in the 17th or 18th century. According to The Word Detective this was based on “French consumption of frogs’ legs (anathema to the beef-loving British), as well as the presence of frogs on the coat of arms of the city of Paris.” Long before that, though, the Brits were using frog as a general term of abuse for anyone they didn’t like, including Jesuits and the Dutch (who were also called “froglanders”).↵
The guillotine shown here is the official guillotine of Luxembourg, used for executions up until 1821. You can find great information about the history of guillotines at Bois de Justice, and if you can wait 5 years you can have him build you a really nice guillotine replica.↵
Sunday is Dictionary day. Bill celebrates by reading the dictionary and making fun of fake dictionary entries.
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Dictionary Day is this Sunday, October 16. Why? Because it’s Noah Webster’s birthday. The folks at Wordnik are having a Dictionary Day photo contest: “now that you’re using Wordnik as your go-to word source, show us how you’re putting your print dictionary to use.” “Perhaps you’re using it as a door stop,” they suggest. Now Wordnik is nice and all, but I still read my print dictionaries. I love browsing through them and stumbling upon new things. I guess I need to go take a picture of myself furiously reading the dictionary. Here it is:
That dictionary I’m reading is a facsimile of Samuel Johnson’s groundbreaking 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, though I suppose I should have grabbed a copy of Webster’s in keeping with the celebration of his birthday. I don’t know who published this facsimile or when, since it contains only the exact facsimile, and I’ve lost whatever other information came with it, if any.
I still remember going to the book store to buy the Shorter OED (my first “grownup” dictionary) many years ago. My friend Jim was along, and he was astounded and amused. “You’re spending $100 for a dictionary? A dictionary? What are you going to do–sit home and read your big dictionary?” Yep.
Language is power – we understand that words can move us to tears or laughter, inspire us to great deeds or urge us to mob action. Dictionaries are the democratization of that power, and the more words they contain, the more democratic they are. The dictionary is a gigantic armory and toolbox combined, accessible to all. It reflects our preoccupations, collects our cultural knowledge, and gives us adorable pictures of aardvarks, to boot. And it does all this one word at a time.
So there, Jim.
* * *
Here’s a sign I saw the other day, created by someone who didn’t spend enough time reading real dictionaries before trying write a dictionary entry of their own. It’s at an apartment complex, explaining the renovation work they’re doing:
The sign reads:
RENOVATE: [REN-UH-VEYT] –VERB (USED WITH OBJECT)
1. NEW SIDING. 2. NEW ROOF. 3. NEW LOOK.
Let’s skip over the fake pronunciation (and the fact that the whole thing is in ALL CAPS; why do people do that?). They’ve identified renovate as a verb. Good start. And they note that it’s “used with object.” Also good, though in a real dictionary you’d probably say it’s “transitive.” On to the definition. Hmm. Now I’m confused. Are they saying that I can “new roof” my house? Or maybe renovate isn’t actually a verb and “a renovate” is “new siding”?
Tip for aspiring dictionary entry writers: when you’re defining a verb, your definitions should describe actions. Here’s Johnson’s definition from 1755: “To renew; to restore to the first state.” No siding involved.
I know: it’s not supposed to be a useful dictionary entry, and most people who see the thing won’t be terribly familiar with dictionaries or parts of speech, either. But still. Perhaps (inspired by the suggested activities for National Grammar Day and National Punctuation Day) I should get some spray paint and go out Sunday morning to “renovate” the sign in the name of Noah Webster.*
This is a joke. I do not suggest, endorse, or condone such vandalism.↵
Let's say you want to donate to the American Cancer Society but you feel like going to the their Web site and donating directly would be too simple, and you'd rather let someone else take the credit for your donation anyway. Well, the cynical people at Chevrolet have the answer for you.
Let’s say you want to donate $10 or $25 to the American Cancer Society to support the fight against breast cancer, but you feel like going to the American Cancer Society Web site and donating would be too simple, and you’d rather let someone else take the credit for your donation anyway. Well, the cynical people at Chevrolet have the answer for you, as you can see in the ad at right:
CHANGE YOUR BRAKE PADS OR OIL AND HELP CHANGE A WOMAN’S LIFE
First of all, why is this ad so ugly? Why is it in ALL CAPS? Is that part of Chevrolet’s branding or did whoever who put this ad together just have caps lock on accidentally? Anyway, at least it isn’t all in pink as generally seems to be required for anything involving breast cancer. And it sounds nice, right? Who wouldn’t want to help change a woman’s life? Well, read on:
ELECT TO WAIVE SOME OR ALL OF YOUR ELIGIBLE REBATE FOR SERVICE PERFORMED IN OCTOBER AND CHEVROLET WILL CONTRIBUTE THE MONEY TO THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY IN SUPPORT OF BREAST CANCER AWARENESS.
That’s right: if you get brake pads or an oil change from Chevrolet during October you will be eligible for a $10 or $25 rebate. If instead of cashing your rebate you send it back to Chevrolet, they will generously donate your money to the American Cancer Society and then brag about how much money they’ve given to the cause. How much of other people’s money, that is. They’re not offering to match it or add to it or anything. Just to bundle it all up and contribute it in their own name.
Now, to be fair, Chevy has donated some of its own money–nearly $30,000 in September, according to their press release about this great opportunity. And it’s nice of them to promote awareness of National Breast Cancer Month (sponsored by AstraZeneca) for those few of you who weren’t already aware. But think how much more money they could be donating if they weren’t using it to set up, administer, and advertise this self-promoting donation scam.
My advice to those of you who want to contribute: donate directly, and don’t let Chevrolet take credit for your generosity. Or send it all to me and let me take credit.
An annoying ad from Citibank. Plus $400 in rewards if you have $50,000 to spare. And a bonus: Citibank goes to Iceland.
I’ve been seeing this ad from Citibank in the paper frequently for the last few weeks, and every time I do it leaps out at me. Which I guess is the point, except that it leaps out at me in an annoying way. I’m not sure why.
The copy reads:
A Citibank checking relationship comes with lots of rewards. The first could be a gift card.
Maybe it’s the dumb, excited look on her face as she looks in the mystery bag. Maybe it’s the fact that she looks like she’s excited about a surprise from the bag, but she has presumably bought whatever it is herself, so there’s nothing to be surprised about. Maybe it’s the fact that the ad is so full of the usual advertising hedge phrases: “Get up to $400 in gift cards.” “The first could be a gift card.”
Or maybe it’s just the fact that they wanted her to be facing a different direction than she was when they took the picture, so they flipped it horizontally without anyone noticing that she’s wearing wedding and engagement rings, which are now on the wrong hand, unless maybe she’s European.
Capital One says you are a pile of Babylonian pilgrim dung if you do not bank with them. At least they're not threatening you with a life of drugs and prostitution.
I’m not the only one who has been confused by Capital One’s advertising lately: Nancy Friedman takes a look at a few of their recent ads here and here. These are part of their “New-School Banking” campaign, which attempts to suggest that you are a pile of Babylonian pilgrim crap if you do not bank with them.
One of the ads says, “STOP BANKING LIKE A BABYLONIAN.” Nancy raises the obvious objection: “For the life of me, I couldn’t remember (or imagine) how Babylonians did their banking.”
Another: “QUIT BANKING LIKE A PILGRIM.” Nancy: “Is Capital One dissing the First Thanksgiving Pilgrims, with their white collars and buckled shoes and muskets? Did they even have banks?”
The ads remind me of this ad for G2 bank that I saw all over the place when I was in Prague last year:
As this was explained/translated to me, the tagline “Ty máš na výběr” means “you have a choice,” and the overall message is, “Hey! Students! Come open an account with us and get some cheap earphones! Or else you are doomed to become a junky prostitute!”
The G2 ad is at least funny. The Capital One ads are just dumb, in addition to being nonsequiturs.
Who is Donovan May, and why does he have so many bank branches and ATMs?
On Sunday my Washington Post arrived wrapped in an ad for Capital One Bank.
Apparently they blew their whole budget on the media buy and didn’t save anything for copyediting, competent typography, or realistic photo fakery.
The half-width first page covering my paper has a picture of an African-American man squinting/scowling/smiling at a map while the Washington Monument looms behind him. Above him is this copy:
DONOVAN MAY BE NEW IN TOWN
Here’s what I got from this at a quick glance:
Donovan May must be a sports star of some sort, because otherwise Capital One would not be putting him on a front-page ad in The Washington Post.
Are they really using “black” English (“Donovan May be new in town”) in a front-page ad in The Washington Post?
I reread that twice before I realized that “May” was not the guy’s last name, despite being visually grouped with his first name through the use of color.
I opened the ad and had a few new mysteries to confront.
First the visual mystery: Donovan is now standing in a Capital One parking lot, still holding his map, now squinting into the sky. The Washington Monument is gone. How did he get there? Is that why he looks incredulous? Behind him (out of his line of sight, as far as I can tell, so that’s not what he’s squinting at), a giant red push-pin is sticking into the pavement as hapless citizens look perplexed. Thank god there’s no baby in that stroller! Why is that woman running toward the giant pin of death?!
Then the grammatical mystery. Splashed across a page and a half I read this:
BUT WITH THE MOST BRANCHES & ATMS IN DC
HE HAS NO PROBLEM FINDING HIS CAPITAL ONE BANK
If Donovan himself already has the most branches and ATMs in the city, what does he need with Capital One? And how do those branches and ATMs help him find his bank? Presumably they meant to say that Capital One has the most branches and ATMs, but misplaced their modifier on the way to print.
One mystery, at least, is solved: down at the bottom I read this: “Donovan McNabb, one of Capital One Bank’s newest customers.” Google tells me I was right: he’s a sports star of some sort.
The Coca-Cola company apparently has learned from the mistakes of the music industry, which alienated countless freeloading deadbeats customers when it persecuted them for stealing sharing music digitally. But Coke's down with that. In fact, it has a propaganda video that glorifies unauthorized sharing of its product:
In the video, Coke installs a modified vending machine at a college, and as students beam with love for Coke, the machine hands out various surprises, beginning with some extra bottles of product.
It's a mildly entertaining little publicity stunt, but here's what I noticed: those girls at the beginning are stealing Coke.
Remember, they ostensibly don't know it's a stunt. As far as each of them knows, she put in her quarters and a malfunctioning machine gave her more bottles than she paid for. But does she take the one drink she's entitled to and call the vending machine company to alert them to the problem? Of course not. Even though she knows it's wrong, she takes the "free" drinks and "shares" them with everyone around.
It's not surprising that she would behave this way, but it is surprising that Coca-Cola would look so approvingly upon the behavior. Would they have used the footage in their video if she and her pals had put in 50 cents and then knocked the machine over and looted it? The outcome is the same either way. Is it better morally to have stolen "passively"?
It reminds me of an incident that occurred while I was in college. Someone made a mistake one day when refilling the ATM on campus, and as a result the machine was handing out $20s when it should have been dispensing $5s or $10s (that was back when you could still get $5s and $10s from a cash machine). It's the same scenario: students, through no fault of their own, received more than they were entitled to from a machine. Did the bank take the security camera footage and make a feel-good YouTube video from it? Nope: there was no YouTube back then. So instead, they issued a very stern statement about how it was "wrong" to take money you weren't entitled to. Then they used their transaction records to track down all the people who had made off with free money, and made them give it back, under threat of prosecution.
If only we had had the YouTube back then, maybe it all could have worked out differently: we could have kept our free money and sent the video to all our friends.