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Matthew McConaughey and the Lincoln MKZ: Existential Crisis

I watched. I listened. I laughed (out loud). And I was strangely mesmerized, as I suspect you may be, too. This parodix remix and transformation of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s McConaughified commercial for the Lincoln MKZ, courtesy of Auralnauts, amplifies the ad campaign’s channeling of McConaughey’s True Detective-inspired chain of dark, stream-of-consciousness ramblings to surreal proportions. And it’s pretty perfect.

How did I get here? Why did I order this water? There’s perfectly good water falling from the sky. What if this is the End of Days? I bet I can move this glass with my mind.


Lost in translation: Disastrous foreign renderings of American brand names and ad slogans


During my undergraduate days, I learned from one of my communication professors that the Coca-Cola company ran into an unexpected complication during their initial incursions into Chinese markets when the very name of the product caused mass confusion. Apparently, the syllables “ko-ka-ko-la” are nonsensical in Mandarin, where they can be taken to mean, roughly, “bite the wax tadpole.” (It was just a few years P.I. — Pre-Internet — when I first learned this factoid. Today, there’s a well-sourced Snopes article about it.) In the same vein, this professor passed along the info, which I’ve since seen verified elsewhere, that the Jolly Green Giant brand had trouble in Saudi Arabia because its name lost all of that endearing jolliness when translated into Arabic, and came out meaning something closer to “Intimidating Green Ogre.”

This was all brought to mind yesterday by a passage in an article at Pacific Standard that had me literally laughing out loud even as it I was relishing the delicious irony that’s evident in the fact that the world of corporate marketing and advertising, which long ago sold its soul to the demons of emotional propaganda, has found itself repeatedly stymied by the inherently idiomatic and connotative nature of the very  language it seeks to exploit and manipulate for emotional-economic ends.

There’s also something intrinsically diverting about the news that the Pepsi company inadvertently aligned itself with Taiwanese shamanism:

For all of the research they put into expansion abroad, even with concessions to the local markets, not all American exports are guaranteed hits. Wendy’s closed all of its Japanese outposts in 2009, but returned two years later with a new local partner and a wasabi avocado burger. In 2011, Panda Express announced, all jokes aside, that it was expanding into China, but hasn’t said much about it since then. In his book Brand Failures, Matthew Haig gathered examples of bad luck ruining a corporation’s best-laid plans for global domination: how Vicks’ expansion was stymied because its name sounds like “fuck” in German; how Coors’ old slogan “turn it loose” fell flat in Spain because it translated as “you will suffer from diarrhea”; and how Pepsi promised more than its elixir could deliver when it burst into Taiwan with the slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi generation,” which translated locally as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

Full article: “The World’s Weird America: How Some of Our Most Popular Products Are Seen Overseas

Image by greefus groinks (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, edited for use here

Lies, damned lies, and political consulting: Birth of an industry

If you read just one bit of journalism to illuminate what’s going on during the current season of political campaigning in the United States, make it this one. Jill Lepore, writing for The New Yorker, incisively traces the birth and history of the political consulting industry to reveal its dramatic (and dreadful) impact on American politics, and also, by direct extension, on American society in general. The following strategically cherry-picked über-excerpts are just a small part of the whole story she lays out in her fine article, which bears a title that is at once metaphorical and literal, and also pretty wonderful: “The Lie Factory.”

Political consulting is often thought of as an offshoot of the advertising industry, but closer to the truth is that the advertising industry began as a form of political consulting. As the political scientist Stanley Kelley once explained, when modern advertising began, the big clients were just as interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies like Standard Oil and DuPont looked bad: they looked greedy and ruthless and, in the case of DuPont, which made munitions, sinister. They therefore hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of the large corporation, and, not incidentally, to advance pro-business legislation. It’s this kind of thing that Sinclair was talking about when he said that American history was a battle between business and democracy, and, “So far,” he wrote, “Big Business has won every skirmish.”

… Campaigns, Inc., the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter … No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first people to make politics a business. “Every voter, a consumer” was the mantra of a latter-day consulting firm, but that idea came from Campaigns, Inc. Political management is now a diversified, multibillion-dollar industry of managers, speechwriters, pollsters, and advertisers who play a role in everything from this year’s Presidential race to the campaigns of the candidates for your local school committee. (Campaigns, now, never end. And consultants not only run campaigns; they govern. Mitt Romney, asked by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board how he would choose his Cabinet, said that he’d probably bring in McKinsey to sort that out.) But for years Whitaker and Baxter had no competition, which is one reason that, between 1933 and 1955, they won seventy out of seventy-five campaigns. The campaigns they chose to run, and the way they decided to run them, shaped the history of California, and of the country. Campaigns, Inc., is shaping American politics still.

… Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book. Never lobby; woo voters instead … Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one … Never underestimate the opposition … Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain,” Whitaker said, “the more difficult it is to win support” … Say the same thing over and over again … Subtlety is your enemy … Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”

Fan flames. “We need more partisanship in this country,” Whitaker said. Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy. “The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen,” Whitaker advised. “But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign, and only two that we have ever found successful.” You can put on a fight (“he likes a good hot battle, with no punches pulled”), or you can put on a show (“he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades”): “So if you can’t fight, PUT ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.”

— Jill Lepore, “The Lie Factory,” The New Yorker, September 24, 2012

Via Longform

Image: “I Like Ike” by Dwight D. Eisenhower Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Recommended Reading 22

This week’s recommended reading includes: a report on the real-world rise of nightmarish SF-type threats from widely deployed nanobots; a satirical exposure of the essence of bipolar political demonization; a story from National Geographic on the way ancient Rome’s obsession with borders and wall-building was directly implicated in the empire’s fall; information about a new book exploring advertising’s insidious impact on our unconscious selves; a rather riveting examination of Alcoholics Anonymous and its still-unexplained effectiveness at treating addictions; and some sage words from Dr. Rupert Sheldrake about the dogmas that currently have a semi-stranglehold on science.

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