In Douglas Adams’ classic radio-TV-book-comic-stageplay-heiroglyphics series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, there is an interlude wherein the heroes encounter a “space ark” full of refugees from a planetary disaster. The government of the planet Golgafrincham announced that they were facing a great catastrophe, and the entire population would have to set forth into space to find a new home. They built three giant space arks: into the first would go the rulers, leaders, intellectuals and artists; the second would carry the “middlemen”– Telephone Sanitisers, TV Producers, Insurance Salesmen, Management Consultants, Marketing executives and so on; and the third would carry the remainder of the population, the working people. In truth, there was no Giant Space Goat about to eat the planet. There was no threat at all. The members of the “useless population” were packed into the B-Ark and told that everyone else would follow shortly in the other two. The other two thirds of the population, of course, did not follow and “led full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone”.
I have to agree with this assessment of the value of Marketing. The ironic part is that I have worked in marketing or some related area for most of the last three decades. We call this “Selling Your Soul on the Installment Plan.” A little piece at a time. Fortunately for me, the corporate overlords for whom I currently toil are actually fairly decent: they make equipment for musicians, some of whom may create what Harry Chapin called “music to accompany the truth.” So I’m not too badly oppressed, compared to some. For instance: I noticed a while back that it is impossible to tell the difference between the flavors of Powerade sport drink and Speed Stick Deodorant scents. Don’t believe me? Okay, here’s a quiz.
What is the point of that? Well, somebody got paid good money to sit down and come up with trademarkable names for these products that would sound dramatic and exciting… and tell you precisely nothing about the product. What does “Ice Storm” taste or smell like? The only item on the list that gives you any clue at all to what it’s like is “Fruity Melon”. Marketing. Ugh.
See, beyond the essential meaninglessness of most marketing efforts, there’s the fact that they routinely try to sell us things that no rational person would consider a good idea.
Last Monday, The Hollywood Bowl presented a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with on-stage recreation by “Midnight Insanity”. This is wrong. The Hollywood Bowl is a premiere arts institution, a performance venue for symphony orchestras and world-class artists. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as much as I love it, is the antithesis of that. Respectability kills it. It’s supposed to be a weird little fringe thing that most people are all but oblivious to. But the marketing people saw a chance to make a few bucks and they went and legitimized it, and thereby pushed it another step toward embalming it.
The other day, I saw a billboard promoting the city of Las Vegas. It said “We were _______ the whole time.” Prepare your alibi in advance at lasvegas.com. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a little sick of Las Vegas’ latest marketing schemes. That whole “what happens in Vegas…” thing kinda creeps me out. Why don’t they just come right out and run ads saying “cheat on your spouse here; we’ll help you get away with it!” instead of tiptoeing around it. Let’s face facts: Las Vegas is eagerly portraying itself as a slimy sleazy cesspool of vice, as if that’s a selling point. And apparently it is.
Last weekend, I went to the King Tut exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was marketed as “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, but it might as well have been called “Stuff Owned by People Tangentially Related to King Tut.” The marketing guys have had a field day with this one; they really want to recapture some of the success (and revenue) of the last King Tut tour 27 years ago. I missed the exhibit when it came through that time, but the pictures I’ve seen of the stuff that was on that tour were really amazing, so I was primed for this one.
As it turned out, the informational signage was actually more interesting than the actual artifacts. I learned a whole bunch of stuff about Tutankhamun and his relatives, mostly his relatives, since the bulk of the items shown were from Cousin Floyd and Aunt Hortense’s tombs. They did a really good job of that. I didn’t know that Tut’s predecessor (and possibly father), Amenhotep IV, had taken it upon himself to throw out all the Egyptian gods in favor of Aten, the sun disk. He made it illegal to worship the other gods, then changed his own name to Akhenaten (“The One Who is Effective for Aten”), and then announced that he was in fact the physical incarnation of the god Aten. Eventually his ticket got punched, and as soon as young Tutankhaten was old enough, he promptly dropped the “Aten” part and replaced it with “Amun” for Amun-Re” the older traditional sun god, then undid everything the old man did. As we can see by all these name changes, even in ancient Egypt they understood the power of marketing.
As well as the museum folks did at presenting the information, they did an even better job of building up the expectation along the way. The whole show is structured to lead you deeper and deeper into what you think will be the big show-stopper, possibly one of the large gold busts of Tut, or one of the four gold sarcophagi that held his remains. Something dramatic and powerful. There’s this sense of drama that builds room by room as you feel led to, well, whatever it is you’re being led to. Finally, just outside the last room, there’s a computer animated sequence showing the nine layers of golden shrines and sarcophagi in which young Tut was encased. Then you step into the hushed room and find….. a platform meant to represent the body’s resting place, surrounded by brass inlays on the floor showing where all that other stuff should have been if they’d brought it. And on the platform, you find…. a video projection that cycles through the layers of his entombment, highlighting the random sampling of items they actually brought to show- jewelry and knick-knacks mostly. These are mounted in displays scattered higgledy-piggledy about the room. All in all, a bit of a letdown. But the marketing people by god did their jobs.
Prepare the B Ark!
1. Caribbean Cool: Deodorant
2. Fruity Melon: Deodorant
3. Arctic Shatter: Drink
4. Icy Surge: Deodorant
5. Ice Storm: Drink
6. Tidal Burst: Drink
7. Aqua Sport: Deodorant
8. Mountain Blast: Drink
9. Fresh Fusion: Deodorant
10. Forest Force: Drink.