Behold the power of language.
(Sorry bro, but let me explain)
I’d hoped those words might be large enough for you to see coming a few clicks away, but since you’re already here, let’s just call the whole game off and let me explain what this is all about. But before I do, just know this: the former charge stands—You Are A Sucker.
So what drew you in? It certainly wasn’t the content, because had you known I would be sitting here, half-naked and snickering with mockery for you, you might have moved onward to that favorite porn site you usually frequent about this time. No, it wasn’t the content that got you here; it was the language in the title.
Ahhhh, language. How I love thee.
The Post-SPAM Age
In the blooming age of the Internet, the young network was so innocent and transparent.
Remember in the 1990’s, when you got all that porn e-mail that just told you what was going to happen to your penis right there in the subject line. You knew exactly what to expect from all those barely legal teens, that for some reason, had come to their senses and realized the legitimacy of your throne as a sexual icon. You knew where your bread was buttered, and so did they.
Then came the Trojan Horse Wars, and things changed. Online solicitors were no longer interested in the small pool of participants they were dealing with and wished to expand their influence to those who WERE NOT really interested in their products. Ad marketeers got tired of people ignoring them, so they started disguising their messages as legitimate e-mails meant to trick you into reading the content of their messages. It got so bad, that people began unknowingly downloading what was essentially programs with porn ads that would invade your entire computer experience—all because the subject line addressed you by name and invoked the persuasion of Aunt Betty.
And so, after opening thousands of disingenuous letters from corporate whores looking to break your bank account, the lovable and gullible people of the world started to realize that this was just advertising and nothing more. It was a tough time for self-esteem, but people learned their lesson and pretty much vowed to never open e-mail from a source they didn’t know.
That timeline would bring us to now: the post-Spam age.
E-mail still happens. But now, with spam blockers and good e-mail filtering it’s rare that someone will get something they don’t want. However, check those other e-mail boxes you have—wow. Yesterday I think my “Junk Mail” box was at 2,000 messages. I read somewhere that experts estimate that almost 92% of ALL e-mails sent are Spam. Yikes.
Anyway. When it became clear that the average person held too much resentment toward e-mail and vowed to participate very minimally, ad marketeers went to work on our Internet experience. And again, it’s here where we see the power of language.
In the case of the Post-Spam Age, compelling and outrageous language is often used to create a kind of “foot in the door” effect for marketers. They just need to get you there. And, once they do (like I did), they’ve succeeded.
A catchy title, however off the mark of its content, just might be what compels you to click on a link that sends ad dollars to online marketers, and puts you in front of the real pitch meant to empty your wallet.
We’ve all experienced these before: Sidebar advertising with outrageous claims that make stay-at-home moms the next CEO of “Make a Billion in your Underwear, Inc.” Or, that “Single-Mother” who cracked the code for perfectly white teeth using that special blend of cat urine and mama’s tomato sauce from the old country. Or, perhaps you’re looking to make your penis bigger? Check out that “weird” trick some 17-year old figured out—which is apparently destroying the porn industry (so it must be good).
Evidently, clicking these links will lead you to a page where you’re forced to read some ridiculous story, which later prompts to order a “free trial” of some bogus product. This “free trial” order later exploits your credit card information by signing you up for a laundry list of monthly subscriptions that are nearly impossible to cancel before spending $100 or more. Nice going Internet. Nice going.
Self-Praise and Over-qualifiers
Every time I turn on the radio I hear this ridiculous advertisement for Fairway Market. This dude gets on the mic—which, by the way, is too damn close to his mouth—and he starts going on about how they employ “world-class expert cheese artisans” and a whole parade of other fancy sounding adjectives and nouns meant to feed the illusion that, somehow, it’s okay to charge you $7.99 for a piece of carrot cake.
Steve Jobs once made an interesting comment about quality. He said that, with most things, the difference between the best and the average is about 20%. When written down 20% seems like a lot, but the truth is the average person wouldn’t really perceive the difference if both products were presented in the same way. For example, if I brought you a dessert served in a unique plate, featuring a special garnish with chocolate sauces dribbled in an intricate pattern, it would have an effect on how you perceived the taste. You may perceive the taste to be much better than if I just brought you the same dessert in a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon.
But if both were presented in the same way, the average person would have much difficultly perceiving which was the better dessert. And so, language is used to dress up products with over-the top adjectives.
You can hear it in other radio advertisements for products as mundane as coffee: “rich, premium roast coffee” (McDonald’s); “artisan baguette” (QuickChek)
You see this kind of thing plastered all over signs and on the side of vans, too—exceptional language and self-professed claims of excellence that can neither be verified or understood on your own terms. Things like: “Specialists”, “Experts”, “World Class”, “The Best (Insert Product or Food) in New Jersey”. The language is simply meant to convey an added value that may or may not exist.
In his autobiography, “Total Recall”, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to adding “European Specialists” to his masonry construction company to attract the interest and tastes of big money. He knew almost nothing about masonry.
A Windowsill is a Chair, We swear
I often frequent this large Barnes and Noble bookstore that, up until a year ago, featured a really awesome seating. In fact, a large chunk of the second-floor balcony was dedicated to a field of lazy, leather armchairs ripe for studying—and that’s exactly what people did. There were tables too, which allowed customers to do some work, relax, and read quietly. But that was then.
The second floor chill spot doesn’t exist anymore. The space is now inundated with trashing fiction novels that make R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series look like the essential Shakespeare. So where can you sit now? Well, I thought the cafe was a safe bet. Wrong.
I was sitting there last weekend, catching up on some tech news and writing a bit when a middle aged woman wearing a headset radio approached me.
“This seating is for people who have purchased something from the cafe. If you want to read, there are chairs and a windowsill at the front of the store.” She said.
I didn’t make a fuss.
“Oh okay, sorry about that,” I said with a smile.
I could detect, however small, some presence of embarrassment in her voice. And, as I would later figure out why, there was every reason for it.
I strolled to the front of the store where she had directed me and found a small group of stranglers. Every one of the six chairs were full and there were a few folk strewn about narrow ledge of the large windowsills there. There was, however, no seat for me.
Refusing to completely surrender, I squatted down, indian style, up against one of the shelves and resumed the perusing of my magazine. I had nearly forgotten about the absurdity of the seating situation when another Barnes and Noble employee walked by and waved his hand to get my attention.
I supposed he imagined that desperately waving his hand in my peripherals was somehow less rude than simply saying “excuse me”; it wasn’t. When it was that I turned my attention to him, he addressed me in a soft voice.
“You can’t sit on the floor,” he said.
Apparently, the craziness of the situation had not yet properly matured in his mind. He hadn’t quite grasp the idea that five chairs wasn’t enough to seat a suitable fraction of the book-loving customers that now surrounded me, their eyes heavy with the look of forgotten POW‘s. It also hadn’t registered that windowsills were not chairs, and that, if they were, we’d all be familiar with that scene of the family table being surrounded by windowsills instead of chairs.
I was confused. Baffled really. Baffled that Barnes and Noble would take a very enjoyable experience and exchange it for a worse one—one dressed up in clever language by which windowsills were made chairs and where your friendly neighborhood bookstore became a soulless corporate shell.