Category Archives: Advertising

Don Quixote of the Modern College Campus

I took this picture while stopped in traffic on Nassau Street, right in front of Princeton University’s main gate.

The bus caught my eye.  (How could it not?)  It’s the type of NQR that makes me, at least fleetingly, rather happy, warmed-inside, representing a sort of harmless and hopeful craziness which, if it were to increase individually or collectively, would surely benefit our often cruel and callous world.

Some of the lovely, hopeful slogans borne by this Rocinante:  “Spread kindness to everyone every chance you get” . . . “Overcome bullying through love” . . . “One guy (Bob) and his dog (Gocart) traveling to campuses across the country to promote kindness” . . . “Kids need role models” . . . “Let’s all stop hurtin’ each other” . . . “Don’t Hit Don’t Hurt Do Help Do Heal” . . . “You Have Such a Big Heart Share It With Everyone” . . . “The Greatest of These Is Love”

The bus also provides an opportunity to show to people overseas who aren’t familiar with America one of the last vestiges of our vaunted hippie culture, a dream and an anti-capitalist fervor that once thrived on certain (more liberal) college campuses but has now disappeared, aging and mellowing, to suburban pacification or to isolation in certain marginalized movements or locations. (Though the ‘Occupy’ events of last summer still had force!)

I was happy to see this bus, here, in a place like Princeton where I wouldn’t ever have expected it.  I wonder how its owner fared, preaching or simply being among the scions of this elite, Ivy locale.  I imagine he found some folks to listen, others like me to look and think about his slogans and his message.  But, in the end, the thing that made me happiest of all was just to imagine him, a modern Quixote mounting his painted, slogan-covered Rocinante and driving, rescue-dog at his side, off into some romantic and futile sunset, tilting at so many noble windmills.

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You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me!

Why, why, why on earth do KIDS need a Pottery Barn?

Not only is the concept just wacky (what do they care about 100-thread count Egyptian cotton bedsheets?) but I actually witnessed, just after taking this photo, a five year-old boy emerge with his mother, sobbing, begging — begging! — to be allowed to stay and play.  This does not bode well for the future masculinity of our American society.  And, with all the starving KIDS in the world, I just wish that some of these parents looked beyong their own noses to do something, anything, better with their dollars.

Gag me with a spoon (or some overpriced but teensy-weensy furniture).


An Incongruous Vehicle

Moments of Not Quite Right can be found anywhere.  Even here, in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s outside Princeton, New Jersey.  Admittedly, this situation is more Jersey (or Jooysie) than Princetonian, since the Boro of Princeton is usually a world unto itself, seemingly unrelated to the state where it has been nestled.

A Very Incongruous Vehicle

Four main points of NQR-ness here:

First, notice that this a HUMVEE, with entry several feet above the ground either driver-side or passenger-side.  Certainly use of this vehicle must be ostentatiously more difficult than average for anyone with the sort of unforunate handicap that might make walking from a parking lot into a store difficult.  Yet the vehicle has a handicapped tag hanging from the rearview mirror (barely visible in the photo) AND is using that advantage to park in the spot nearest to Trader Joe’s main door.

Second, the personalized license plate says “POLKA 1.”  While this might not be out-of-place in my native Wisconsin, the combination of Jersey, Humvee, handicapped, and Polka makes me not only wonder at the strange confluence of forces at work in the personality of the driver, but also brings into question, once again, the nature of the handicap.  Is it a walking handicap?  If so, why the Humvee?  Why the proclaimed preference for polka?

Third, all of this is located at Trader Joe’s, an amorphously upscale, trendy, organic, granola-crunchy supermarket chain.  Something’s got to give in my mental picture of the owner of this vehicle:  tie-died shirt hobbling along with a tennis-ball clad walker, iPhones blaring Roll-Out-The-Barrel while browsing through a muscle-car magazine?

Fourth, and maybe worst of all given the Sandusky affair, the final piece of information conveyed by the vehicle is its support of the Nittany Lions.  What weirdness has brought a fan or alum from Happy Valley this far across the eastern seaboard in his banana-yellow buggy, polkaing, parking in handicap spots, struggling to remount this oversized gas-guzzling giant of a vehicle at every turn?

It’s just odd.  Inexplicably odd.  But it should serve as notice that we Americans have more than our fair share of NQR.


Soft Drink Wars

Just a quick NQR chime-in on the soft drink debate that’s currently raging in New York City (see article on the recent hearing where Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit soda sizes to 16oz in the city is debated).

Personally we’ve taken to ordering kids’ meals when we’re traveling and don’t otherwise have our normal range of options for healthy eating (or at least obtaining healthy portion sizes).  The fries in a kids’ meal are the same size now days as LARGE fries when we were kids.  The burgers are portion-sized, rather than 1000+ calorie behemoths.  And the sodas are in the 8 – 12oz range.  This says alot about America, and American gluttony, that the cheapest and most available sources of food are too large, too sugary, and too fat.  Unlike much of the rest of the world, where the poorer classes are subjected to starvation-level poverty, in America food is an almost unavoidable excess unless you’re rich enough (ala Angelina Jolie) to hire a private cook and nutritionist.

Here’s proof (from what has been, over time, one of our more favored and frequented fast food joints) on the explosion in size of soft drinks.  A REGULAR soda (regular!) came across the counter to me barely large enough to fit in my hand.  The fine print in the lower right corner of the cup reveals its size:  30oz.  It’s stupid big.  And it lends credence to what doctors are saying about these soft drinks, that they’re addictive.  How else can anyone explain drinking, in one sitting, an amount of soda that is equal to half the normal intake of water someone needs during a day?

I say to Mayor Bloomberg:  “Good work.”  If someone has a problem with a 16oz size soda, let them purchase two (or four, if they want the equivalent of a modern ‘large’).

Giant cup of sugar (or worse: corn syrup!)

 


Have Faith in Your Delivery Man

Just in case you have a very special package to deliver . . . does a sender get to choose between delivery via the Old Testment smiter of a God or the New Testament lamb?

A good name . . . perhaps a little presumptuous?


Jersey Fresh (Say What?)

One among many signs at the local Wegman’s Supermarket that announces a “Jersey Fresh” product.

Maybe because I hail from a state that has some claim to actual “freshness,” or maybe because New Jersey seems, still, even after living here for nine months, such a metropolitan and even slightly greasy place, the current  agricultural marketing slogan “Jersey Fresh” makes me chuckle in an NQR sort of way everytime I see it.

Admittedly, not ALL of New Jersey (especially the part where we live) is akin to the infamously trashy setting of the TV show “Jersey Shore.”  That’s up closer to Newark, in the badder ‘burbs of NYC.  Out here things are comparatively rural.  Comparatively bucolic.  But also waaaaay crowded and almost devoid of land actually being used for agriculture.  In fact, in those few places where you see fields (instead of housing developments or strip malls) nicely stencilled plaques usually can be found proclaiming that the land had been specificially “saved” as a rural preservation, like a tourist attraction!

So, while I’m a little ashamed to admit actually buying a few of these scallops (we’ll see how “Jersey Fresh” they actually are when I sautee them in a little herbed and garlicked olive oil tomorrow), the slogan definitely requires an entry here.  Bon apetit!


Massively Corrupt Translation

Obverse Arabic; reverse sporting Sanskrit.

When two powerful but rather mutually exclusive cultures come into contact (and here I’m not talking about West/East in the present day), strange things happen between their languages.  In one of my courses this semester I am studying the power dynamics of such linguistic interplay.  But this particular example comes from an Islamic history lesson on the Mughal rulers of northern India given by Professor Michael Cook.  In those particular days amazing levels of not only corruption but also of creation, of mistranslated openness, accidental syncretism, can be found between the Muslim rulers and their Hindu population.  I deal here with a few words written in the Śārada script (a version of Sanskrit) on a coin struck in Lahore during the reign Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna (r. 998 – 1030 CE).

The words are: 

avyaktam-eka muhammada avatāra npati mahamūda

~

This phrase, roughly decoded, is meant to replicate the Islamic shadada, or Profession of Faith, which occupies the central space on the front of the coin:

لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله (lā ʾilāha ʾilá l-Lāh, Muḥammad rasūlu l-Lāh)

In English:  There is no god but God and Muhammad is his Prophet.

~

However, things go very badly for the translation, at least if read from a Muslim theological viewpoint (rather than from the perspective of the Sultanate’s colonized Hindi subjects).

First, for fans of James Cameron, the word avatāra surely jumps out from the Sanskrit.  What has this to do with Muhammad?  Are Mahmud’s medieval translators depicting the Prophet of Islam as a giant blue-spackled centaur from a planet far, far away?  No.  This is the word chosen in the inscription to represent the Arabic rasūlu:  Messenger, or Prophet.  Except, in the Sanskrit, the term carries with it connotations less relevant to an earthly messenger and much more indicative of an incarnation, a reincarnation.  Definitely not an Islamic concept.

Next, the opening phrase avyaktam-eka stands in for the Arabic lā ʾilāha ʾilá l-Lāh — ‘There is no god but God.’  Again, the translation takes great liberties.  What we have is something much closer to “Invisible and One” or “Unmanifested and One.”  Furthermore, the Sanskrit employs a neutered case ending rather than a masculine ending, definitely changing the anthropomorphic, masculine Islamic deity into an ungendered metaphysical concept patterned strongly on the Vedas or Upanishads.

It is also worth noting that Sanskrit possessed a perfectly well-established and well-understood word for God:  deva Surprising, very surprising, not to see that word used in this inscription.  My professor hypothesized that the decision not to use deva in the inscription might be linked to Sultan Mahmud’s other courtly language, Persian.  There, the word deva sounds suspiciously like the Farsi div, which means demon.  Should Sultan Mahmud have chosen a translation that included the word deva as a stand in for God instead of avyaktam, his Persian courtiers would have been very offended indeed to hear a Śārada-Sanskrit version of the Profession of Faith that sounded, to them, like ‘There is no demon but demon . . .’

Finally, the word npati means something roughly equivalent to king, lord of men, prince, or sovereign, none of which are titles the Prophet Muhammad claimed, though subsequent Caliphs called themselves Leaders of the Faithful, Amir al-Mumineen.  At the expense of an authentic translation of the shahada, it seems Sultan Mahmud opted to use the very small, very precious space of this coin to remind his subjects of his place in their earthly dominion.

In the end, the coins issued by the Islamic Sultan Mahmud of Lahore, to the great edification of his Hindi subjects, portrayed the Profession of Faith in terms not so different from the way they already thought about the world, blending the language of Islam into a new and entirely different, entirely strange conception of the central tenet of the new religion:

The Unmanifested and One incarnate King Muhammad.

~

It’s not quite Hinduism.  It’s certainly not Islam.  And, doubtlessly, such a translation qualifies for mention on NQR.

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*Credit for the Śārada translations to E.A. Davidovich and A.H. Dani, “Coinage and the Monetary System” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. 4., UNESCO Publishing, 1988, page 414.

 

 


A Cup of Khan

This one falls under the ‘accidentally good’ product name category.  And the accidentally provides justification enough for including it as NQR.

Ogedei's mug on the package, but no corresponding triple-sized 'mug' available.

Although this blog certainly refrains from advocating any product named after a Mongol despot, we feel especially concerned about food or beverage products claiming specific heritage or association with the Central Asian horse-lords.  What’s more, this one has been named not for the iconic founder of the dynasty (Ghengis) nor for the more famous later descendent Tamerlane, but for one of the tweener Khans, the more obscure but still satisfyingly frightful Ogedei.

What makes this name particularly apt is that Ogedei was ordered by his court physician to cut his drinking in half or else face certain early death from what we, now, would call cirrhosis.  Ogedei, cheeky bugger that he was, complied with the letter but not the spirit of the injunction, having one of his craftsmen fashion a drinking vessel three times as large!  He continued his drinking.  He died.  And the invasion of Europe stalled on the very doorstep of Germany and Austria in order for all the claimants to the royal Mongolian throne (or yurt) could make their way as speedily as possible back to Karakorum in the Himalayan foothills, there to decide upon the next ruler.

So, as a bit of marketing advice for the Khaantea Corporation, consider incorporating Ogedei’s oversized cup into advertisements.  I’m sure there are plenty of us Starbucks’ addicts who might benefit from a mug three times larger than usual.  And, if I were to see, through my bleary pre-coffee morning vision Ogedei’s visage every day, I might feel at least a little grateful for his extreme appetites.  Were it not for his early death I might be speaking and writing some variation of Mongolese now, rather than English.


Terrible Product Name – Fierce ANL Fuse

Found this one just now, while searching for a car adaptor for my kids’ Wii video game system.

Since, earlier, I posted some weird company names from the Middle East — Butt Sweet House, Mohammad Ibrahim Law Firm (which advertises using its acronym), and Coq Magique — I thought it would only be fair to show an American counterpart.  What’s more, there is absolutely no reason, no language barrier, no cultural misunderstanding, that should allow such a name as this to ever, ever hit the market.  Pure copywriting failure.

The image speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

"Fierce ANL Fuse" proudly sold at a Best Buy near you.


Reblogging this post 1) Because it was a cool one and 2) Because it is now cited on a Wiki as evidence that the French explorer Pierre-Constant Letorzec visited Merowe (the link in the footnotes for Merowe leads to my Un-American Graffiti webpage! Hot-diggity dog.)

Not Quite Right

In a land of crushing poverty with a brutal climate, a high rate of disease, and a notorious dictatorship, it might be strange to confess that one of the things most troubling to me in Sudan was its graffiti.  While I started to gain an appreciation for Arabic graffiti itself (noticing some strange juxtapositions between imported Rasta culture, with images of Bob Marley combined with a Muhammad-like veneration) the stuff that most affected me involved the relics from ancient days.

Often covered in names to the point where the hieroglyphs themselves are barely readable, many of the ruins, temples, pyramids and fortifications from three, four and five millenia ago have been been seriously defaced.  What makes a person decide that their name, or their name with the name of their loved-one encircled in a heart, is worth immortalization?  What attraction does an object of history hold, that a man must…

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