October 20, 2008

Words Without Meaning

One thing we can all agree on -- there's a lot of bullshit in the ad business.

As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for presidential candidates, art critics, and branding consultants, we would lead the league in bullshit.

What occurred to me earlier this week was that we create two different kinds of bullshit. The first kind is intentionally misleading bullshit. You know, the "no pain reliever is stronger" (i.e., they're all the same) kind of bullshit.

The second kind is words without meaning. It's not misleading or deceptive, it's just bewildering.

I was driving to work and I saw a taxi. On the side of the taxi was their proud company slogan.
"Our People. Our Community."
It has the sound and structure of an advertising tag line. And it means absolutely nothing.

Who are "Our People?" The drivers? The owners? The customers? The citizens of San Francisco? Likewise, who is "Our Community?"

But more important, what about them? Even if we understood what was meant by "Our People. Our Community," what about them? Are they lovely individuals? Are they smelly degenerates? What? What's the point?

We are exposed to so much bullshit every day we can't even see it any more. The ad industry certainly didn't invent bullshit, but everywhere we step we spread a little.

Reading Assignment:
"On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt. A professor of philosophy at Princeton looks at our favorite subject. It's only 80 pages and it's terrific.

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