I saw this truck on the highway the other day. I don’t know what it was carrying — probably cameras and broadcasting equipment — but it was covered in ads for the local Fox afternoon show. It’s a blurry picture, taken with the camera balanced on my steering wheel in what was probably the safest move happening within 50 yards. So it’s a bit hard to read, but at the top it says “EXCITING. DIFFERENT. FRESH.”
None of those words mean anything. I mean, the dictionary gives definitions for them, but I’m left scratching my head wondering how any of them could possibly apply to a local Fox afternoon show. What is exciting about it? What in the world could possibly be different about it? Is it an hour or so of recycled headlines, celebrity trivia, animal-shelter stories, and vacuous banter? Oh, it is? How fresh!
Having worked in marketing for many years, I have a particular sore spot for ad copy that attempts to be arresting by simply stating adjectives without context. You might as well say “Good!” and just leave it at that. A smiling man in a suit and time-lapse photography of a street are hardly shattering the boundaries of “fresh,” I think we can all agree, but the saddest part about this ad is that someone looked at the creative brief for what the copy was supposed to be like — “exciting, different, fresh” — and then just used those words instead.
And why not? Who is watching a news show at five in the afternoon? People without jobs? Stay-at-home parents? Retired people? In the eyes of marketers, none of these audiences justify breaking any boundaries to court. So the safest approach is to create a veneer of excitement. A better word would be “activity.” In practice this means lots of graphics that swoop in and around and clang together with sound effects, and perhaps one of the female hosts wears a low-cut top. There is no reason at all to attempt anything fundamentally daring, such as ignoring a celebrity scandal. For outrage must be feigned at all costs! But certainly let’s all play-act at being renegades.
Then I saw the side of the truck.
“Expect the Unexpected.”
Okay. When I turn on the television at five in the afternoon, I will expect the hosts to stare blankly into the camera. Then, one by one, I will expect them to open their mouths and release an ink-black cloud of locusts. The locusts will swarm the studio and systematically devour the sets, the backdrops, the desk and the seat cushions, while the hosts begin to sing in an ancient language, a song from when the earth was still large and dark. It will be a song of growth, of transition, as the locusts continue to turn painted chipboard and thin wooden paneling into so much biological waste. When the locusts finally fall silent, the fading bars of the song having stilled their wings at last, the hosts will slough their loosening skin and become beings of pure light, gathering the locusts into a cyclone of energy and gravity, compressing their chitinous bodies into a perfect sphere of unimaginable mass. I will expect them to build a pyre for this sphere out of the ruins of their studio, and as it begins to smolder with a pale purple flame, I will expect these luminous creatures to shimmer, slowly and at a frequency difficult for the cameras to detect, into the fiftieth dimension. For the briefest of instants — barely a thirtieth of a second — we will glimpse past the horizon of human understanding, before we are all wrenched back to the present like being dropped heavily from a rope into a pit of warm pudding. For the perfect silence of a minute and a half, filtered evening sunlight will illuminate a miasma of dust motes slowly settling to the floor of the vacant studio. The purple sphere will darken as all humankind ponders the mysteries that have been revealed to them for an instant and then taken back forever. Then, and only then, will there be an extremely loud commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses.