Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bilingual Brainmelt

I've spent the last week in Berlin, which has been toll. Toll actually means crazy and the German word for rabies is 'Tollwut' which means 'crazyfury' - but in this case it's a good thing, because it also roughly translates as 'ace'.
Now, review that sentence in your head, and then consider that EVERY SENTENCE going through my head currently sounds like that and you'll understand why I have a headache. My brain starts off in English and then....then I realise I've forgotten large chunks of my native language and relpaced them with German. Then I'll get distracted on a little linguistic detour on the etymology of the word which, being German, is pretty easy to map. Last night I was sitting in a bar drinking Pilsener Urquell (which it turns out I say SO BADLY in German that no bartender has a clue what I'm asking for and I'm reduced to flailing over the bar like some unfortunate and desperate drunk mumbling 'da, da, Bier. OOOOrkvell!' until they twig and start speaking in English to me to save embarrassment.) ANYWAY (y'see?) I'm looking at the Urquell label, and at a bottled water someone's drinking called Spreequell. (The Spree is the river in Berlin. you say it 'shpray', well, I do.) and I realise...huh... 'Quell' means source, or spring. Urquell, is like "the original source" - which is also the name of a brand of bubblebath. so if you drank an Urquell in an Original Source bath, you could potentially get confused. What everyone else sees is that weird English girl who understands a surprising amount of German for an Engländerin, but can't talk for shit, giggling at her beer bottle. I'm gonna kvell, already. Which is where THAT Yiddish gem comes from. See? You see? Siehst du? And this is why I haven't updated the blog much. Mein gehirn ist ganz kaputt.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Man Crisps?

Just a little thought on an adcampaign I noticed last night. McCoy's crisps new slogan is 'Man crisps'. The implication being that these crisps - which are thickly cut and strongly flavoured and really rather nice - are more rugged and masculine and therefore intended for men. They are possibly the diametric opposite of 'Snack-a-Jacks' - tasty,low fat rice treats which are apparently only ever consumed by women in offices. Look at the two pictures above. Both are basically for prawn cocktail crisps, except that McCoy's have steered away from the slightly camp sounding 'prawn cocktail and gone for a rugged 'Sizzling King Prawn'. Alan Carr would order a prawn cocktail in an overly chintzy bistro run by Felicity Kendal in some thus far thankfully unimagined Carry On Film resurgence. Sizzling King Prawns are something Ray Mears might rustle up on an improvised beach barbecue. The idea of 'prawn' is also less of a threat to anyone's heteromasculinity if it's got the word 'King' next to it.
Then there's the colour. In the language of crisp packets, we all know pink = prawn, but McCoy's have gone for that trademark 'faded salmon' shade that guys can wear to the office without getting queerbashed, where as the packaging on the Snack-a-Jacks is more reminiscent of a mid-range bubblebath than anything edible. Then again, ladies don't EAT, do they? No, they simply float around on a cloud of perfume, flicking their hair and giggling, and clutching pink accessories that may or may not contain 'lo-cal' snacks.
All this is par for the course. I can only assume that, marketing wise, targetting a specific market (and excluding other potential customers) is as lucrative as - or more lucrative than - making your product accessible to everyone. Especially when the market has been effectively aimed at only one gender in the past. Rather than convince the potential male chocolate market, for example, that contrary to what the ad media have been telling you for years, chocolate is not just for the womenfolk and kids, and they are more than welcome to buy Galaxy bars and Maltesers, you concentrate all the masculinity on one brand and hope the guys'll go for that. Hence the aforementioned and reviled Nestle ad : Yorkie, it's not for girls. How's that for retrograde and offensive?
My initial reaction to this campaign was 'it's not for girls? Well I'm a WOMAN and I can have a Yorkie if I like. No hang on, they're Nestle, whom I boycott, and anyway their chocolate is substandard. And even if I DIDN'T boycott Nestle, I certainly would NOW. They don't want my business, I'll take it elsewhere.' OK, they were my initial, secondary and tertiary reactions, if we're splitting hairs.
And I kind of feel the same way about McCoy's. 'Man crisps'? Obviously too thick and rugged for my pretty little mouth. Fine. Keep 'em. But I don't like the sense of manipulation that gives me. If I buy them, an overtly sexist company gets my money. If I boycott, their marketing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and I look like I think they really are 'man crisps'. Similarly with snack-a-jacks, If I choose a pack of those, having boycotted the 'sizzling testosterone' or whatever it is, I'm merely fulfilling the gender stereotypes set up for me by a room full of corporate cocks. It's a real dilemma of the modern world. Sort of. Unless I just stick to Kettle Chips.