Braced from your latest e-mail communication from Obama/Axelrod/Plouffe and still tingling from the latest toke from your fave bookmark, recovery.gov, you're driving your underpowered hybrid automobile with frugal pressure on the pedal and one eye on the goal of energy independence from sneering foreign despots, the other on beating your personal mpg record.
You've just hung up from a telephonic conference with a member of your work team. You were discussing how to persuade the public to patriotically unclench their pocketbooks on behalf of your client when the Bluetooth kicks out and the radio kicks in.
The announcer relays the day's drama from Wall Street, where the rat-faced traders skitter rabid across the trading floor long after their oligarch bosses have fled to Arizona or those nice new condos at the Plaza. The market news is followed by worse news: homelessness, empty stores, lost jobs in California, missing jobs in Michigan, Republican governors refusing money, the South re-seceding from the Union.
It's a relief when the commercial message comes on. The announcer-male, in his 50s, a smoker by the sound of it-has every bit as much gravitas as the newsreader who just took you through the plummeting of the Dow. He asks, on behalf of a famous jeweler, if you happen to possess the "symbols of your accomplishment?" He gathers a head of steam and brazenness, declaring, "You can't wear a corner office." There's a switch back to the news and then, in the next pod, the announcer invites you to "drape her in luxury."
You feel as if you've driven your low-emissions vehicle through a fissure in time. Have you gone wrong on the cloverleaf and headed backwards to the days pre- Lehman-Bear Sterns-AIG-Madoff-TARP-Ponzi?
"Drape her in luxury." How could this copy have gotten through? The new guidelines from the Bureau of the New Era of Responsibility, Office of the Creative Czar, are clear. Did the copywriter miss the e-mail? Or is he a rebel, a dead-ender-holed out in the hills, his words crackling defiantly across the airwaves before vanishing?
Whatever the case, the times have changed and the style with it. The New and Revised Copywriter's Manual is unambiguous. "Luxury" is not one of the words we use anymore.
The manual's 7 Words You Can't Say in Advertising are:
Luxurious, Decadent, Sugary, Sexy,
Exquisite, Bitchin', I.
The 7 Approved Replacement Words:
Solid, Nourishing, Brown, Well-molded,
Sustainable, Post-consumer, We.
By now, the New and Revised Copywriter's Manual, in .pdf format, has landed in every copywriter's in-box. The guidelines recommend beginning every piece of copy with "In this economy" or "In times like these." This introduces, at the outset, a note of empathy. Anyone who has seen American advertising in the last few months notes how eagerly this guideline has been adopted.
Advertising copy for automobiles will be stripped of all references to "adrenaline" or "leather" or even "horsepower." Fast-food advertising will refrain from gluttonous appeals to overconsumption through the use of terms like "monster" and "super" and "triple triple." Financial services copy -- and this stricture is boldfaced -- will no longer promise to help the citizenry "achieve financial dreams" or "help get you there" and especially won't promise "the future you deserve" (this is considered too vengefully ironic).
Until further notice, there will be no advertising for perfume, jewels, silk, cruises, tropical islands, fractional ownership of private jets, or any product that can be monogrammed. There will be no draping of anyone, no matter how deserving or well-molded, in luxury. Not in this economy. Not in times like these.
Not, anyway, until the Dow creaks above 10,000 again or the Consumer Confidence Index lurches above 50. Then the jewel-selling copywriters can come down out of the hills, triumphant and bristling with their banned, dangerous, exciting words.
How long can a New Era of Responsibility last, if it's dull?
Steve Simpson is a copywriter, creative director and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.