Friday, December 3, 2010

Stupid of the Week #5: "Magic"

No, not the card game, though that game is absurdly simple. I mean, really, the Pokemon card game is more mathematically challenging. What I'm bitching about today is the use of the word "magic," specifically in technology-related advertising.

With the Christmas holiday upon us, we can of course expect an uptick in the number of things magic is given credit for. That $3,000 swing set in the backyard that Daddy worked overtime for three months to buy and spent all night Christmas Eve assembling is from "Santa." The cookies on the kitchen counter in the morning, the ones that Mommy woke up at 4am to bake, were left by "elves." The pile of crap your neighbor's dog left on your lawn is "reindeer droppings."

The holiday season is the traditional time set aside to fuck with your child's ability to comprehend reality. It's much easier to convince someone to believe in God if they already believe in a fat man who can fit down a chimney. And when's the last time Jehovah gave you a new bike in exchange for cookies and good behavior? Santa Claus is way cooler than Jesus, and has better fashion sense. Grown men should not wear sandals.

The point is, magic has its place, and that place is in the month of December and in the lies that we tell children. It does not belong in the general vocabulary as a catch-all way to explain away the interactions of electrons and magnetic fields that ultimately lead to computers and other gadgets.

I first noticed the inappropriate use of the term "magic" in a Palm Pre commercial, in which the narrator drones "What happens out here [meaning on Facebook], *magically* updates in here [I suppose this means in your address book on your phone]."

Like, seriously? "We're not the iPhone, but we're close!" would be a better tag line than that. Whatever cool software it is that makes this interface possible, it's not "magic," it's technology. Technology that Palm Pre developed and is now trying to sell. And their big selling point is that their phone is *magic*? Does it run on wishes and fairydust?

At first I thought this might be an isolated incident. A company desperate for a way to lure customers away from the iPhone mistakenly appealed to mysticism. I mean, we are talking about marketing people, here. Not exactly the brightest bulbs in the box. I'm sorry, I mean "magic glowglobes."

But alas, it wasn't long before Apple itself ran a similar ad, touting the "magic" of the iPad. Apple, the tech company for tech people. The guardians of geek heaven. Unless they have wizards on their payroll now, any claims to magical properties should be considered outright fraud.

Still, two points make a line, not a pattern, right? Oh wait, there's also Droid, Motorola, Sony, Microsoft...the list of companies who have publicly attributed the unique abilities of their products to other-worldy forces goes on. It would seem our world is just bursting at the seams with magic. I guess that explains why Radioshack always felt a bit like Diagon Alley to me.

But seriously now: every time I see an appeal to magic in an ad for something that isn't legitimately magical, like Disneyland or Etch-A-Sketch, I feel like some creepy old man is trying to get me to trade my cow for magic beans. Haven't we all heard this story before? It doesn't end with a golden goose.

Ads like these are insulting to the intelligence of their target audience. Not quite as insulting as the plot of Avatar or a Thomas Kinkade painting, but close. And if there's one thing I know is true about Americans, it's that we won't buy things from people who insult our intelligence.

Oh wait.

Never mind.

Wishing you lots of holiday magic!

S. Misanthrope


  1. Here's one for your files: Steve Jobs "The Magician" - courtesy of The Economist.

  2. I guess I should have gone to magician school instead of university. Then I could trick my way into making millions of dollars. I'm sorry, I mean "illusion" my way. Although tricks could work too...