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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 08, 2006

Varsity Stroke? Oo Er!

In the Nicolas Cage classic Peggy Sue Got Married, there's a great scene when Kathleen Turner's character first arrives back in 1960 and greets her father – home from work – for the first time. He comes into the house pretending that there's something exciting going on outside, and drags his family out to see. He's bought a car. Turner dissolves into hysterics as the childhood memory rushes back: "Oh, Dad! You bought an Edsel!"

I'm reading a most enjoyable book called Brand Failures. It's so great to read a collection of anecdotes about how the high and mighty have failed - expensively and publicly.

I never get tired of the New Coke story.

But probably my favourite is the one about the Edsel, a story of hubris and cock-eyed market research by parent company Ford (Edsel was supposed to be a sub-brand of Ford rather than just the name of the car). The short version is that Ford produced a car that just didn't appeal to people. It looked weird - and not in a good way - and it appeared to cost too much (because it was launched too early in the year), and it had a stupid name. Edsel, people said, reminded them of the words pretzel and weasel.

Ford had done a lot of market research on the name, but ended up with so many suggestions that everyone just acquiesced when some arse-licking corporate climber suggested they name it after the boss's father (and Henry Ford's son) Edsel. Edsel: weird name for a car; weirder name for a son.

One of the craziest things Ford did was to recruit the poet Marianne Moore to come up with names. They wanted her to evoke a 'visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design.' Here's what she came up with:

"Resilient Bullet", "Utopian Turtletop", "Ford Silver Sword", "Mongoose Civique", "Varsity Stroke", "Pastelogram" and "Andante con Moto".

Now, is it me, or isn't there quite a lot of metaphors for cock in that list? Was she having a laugh? Utopian Turtletop? What has four letters and can resemble a bald man pulling on a turtleneck sweater? Don't all answer at once. As for Varsity Stroke, I love it. Sounds like a fraternity masturbation contest.

At the time, the Edsel's front end was variously described as 'an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon', or a 'vagina with teeth.'

Something tells me that Americans in the late 50s were consumed with obsessive sexual thoughts, seeing erotic suggestion in everything. Funny stuff.


  • When I worked at an ad agency in London the fave apocryphal story was of some drink that they wanted to market in the far east. The slogan was "it's wicked!" which came out in translation as "witch's piss."

    Quite lovely.

    Conversely if they'd used the latter here in the UK it probably would have been quite successful with the kiddies.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 2:37 am  

  • Need I say it bombed like the Titanic in the target market?

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 2:38 am  

  • In case you didnt spot it, here's an interesting example of brand management. I tried to embed it directly here but blogger won't play, so here's my re-direct.

    By Blogger rashbre, at 5:30 pm  

  • Thanks for that rashbre - and all too true!

    There are quite a few "lost in translation" examples, Si, most of which you can put down to lazy marketeers using babelfish or something rather than paying a profession translator. "Come alive with Pepsi" ended up reading as "Will bring your ancestors back from the dead"!

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 1:30 am  

  • professional.


    By Blogger bot37363838, at 1:30 am  

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