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Vail Daily columnist Allen Smith: It’s all in the name

Allen Smith
Vail, CO, Colorado

While rummaging through my old junk drawer, I came across one of my prize possessions: a ballpoint pen that writes upside down and was endorsed by NASA. In 1965, it was the must-have accessory of the times. Not only could you use it to write upside-down letters while lying in bed, you could draft a note in zero gravity, on greasy paper in a wide variety of temperatures – all while submerged under water.

For the life of me, I can’t think of a single instance when I’ve cursed to myself, “Dang, I wish I had a pen that wrote upside down, under water and on greasy paper.” But it probably would come in handy if I was ever buried alive in a coffin or needed to scribble a note to my editor on a used burger wrapper, explaining that this week’s column would be late because I just drove off a bridge and was currently lying under water at the bottom of a lake.

Since that time, clever marketing pros have come up with thousands of ways to enrich the quality of everyday products. In 1974, the suave actor Ricardo Montalban became famous by pitching the 1974 Chrysler Cordoba with soft, Corinthian leather.



It’s a mystery how the tiny Greek city got caught up in supplying upholstery to overpriced, American sedans, when in fact the seats were actually covered with American cowhide and vinyl products in a plant outside of Newark, N.J. But it worked.

There’s no end to the list of products that have been enhanced with carefully selected buzz words used to increase their perceived value or versatility. Any product that is “space aged” will undoubted be better than one that isn’t – particularly if it’s made from titanium or carbon fiber and was used by astronauts on the space shuttle. Whether it’s Tang, electronics, insulation, underwear, plastic, zit cream, shampoo, suppositories, LED lights or toilet paper, if it spent time in space, it must be good.



Products that use “advanced technology” are so far ahead of their time we probably don’t appreciate them. Touch-screen, digital, Bluetooth and high-definition rectal thermometers have to be better than the glass and mercury models first used in the 1600s. Even though they all do the same thing, it’s comforting to know that you’re being probed using the very best that technology has to offer.

Any products or services with “fast,” “EZ,” “3-minute” or “xpress” preceding their names will always outsell more accurate, hand-made or personalized items.

Consumers want it fast and they want it now. We’ll always drive through fast-food joints, dry cleaners, pharmacies, video outlets, gas stations, doctor and dentist offices, grocery stores – even outpatient surgical centers and synagogues – if it means we don’t have to get out of our cars.



Some products are guaranteed winners: anything to do with enhancing your abs, tightening your butt, enlarging your breasts, covering gray hair, removing unwanted hair, losing weight or eliminating the necessity to cook.

But you have to be selective when choosing the appropriate marketing terms.

“High capacity” is a good term to use for backpacks, suitcases and gas tanks, but you probably don’t want to use it with diapers, condoms, jock straps, sport bras or air-sickness bags.

“Sticky” and “see-through” are great adjectives for office supplies but not appropriate for women’s clothing.

On the other hand, just about any consumer product can benefit from being holistic, lightweight, odor-free, high-fiber, one-touch, organic, gluten-free, latex-free or zero-calorie.

Another clever approach Madison Avenue has tried to sell goods is by attaching “O-Matic” to the end of product or service names. Sling-O-Matics, Rinse-O-Matics, Flex-O-Matics, Ice-O-Matics, Bunn-O-Matics, Wax-O-Matics, Slice-O-Matics, Select-O-Matics, Thing-O-Matics, Stack-O-Matics, Tune-O-Matics, Dare-O-Matics and All-O-Matics have sold millions just on their name value, alone.

On the other hand, you’re not likely to see many Vasectomy-O-Matics, Lasik-O-Matics, Birth-O-Matics, Colonoscopy-O-Matics, Divorce-O-Matics or Bris-O-Matics.

The popularity of the information superhighway has made it much easier to reach out to consumers with alluring product names. I mean, let’s face it, everyone has a Facebook page, Twitter account and RSS feed that are hammered by hundreds of ads for birth-control devices, hemorrhoid creams, Viagra, walkers, porn sites, bedside commodes, electric scooters and telephones with buttons the size of Wheat Thins.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve needed to write a letter upside down, under water on greasy paper, but just in case I do, I make sure I’m never far from my space-aged, titanium, gluten-free, high capacity, organic, zero-calorie, holistic, NASA-endorsed astronaut’s pen.

It’s not likely that a product so suited to the American consumer will ever come my way again.

Allen Smith, of Vail, is the author of “Watching Grandma Circle the Drain” and “Ski Instructors

Confidential.”


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