Things go better with Coca-Cola. No they don’t.
Persil washes whiter. Nonsense.
You can be sure of Shell. Well, it’ll make the car go, that’s for sure, but with no more certainty than the same stuff from Esso or PTT.
Which is why the advertising hoarding in South Pattaya comes as such a welcome change. Its modesty makes you feel so sorry for it that you might go out and buy the product just to cheer it up. I refer to the big poster promoting Mitsubishi electrical equipment that reads BETTER THAN YOU THINK.
Isn’t that sad? Poor Mitsubishi don’t think we rate their electrical equipment very highly. We find it expensive, it breaks down, it’s ugly to look at, gives out loud noises or bad smells and doesn’t impress our friends. It makes me want to reach up and give the advertisement a big hug. I’m sure we don’t think that badly of your electrical equipment, I’d reassure it. And yes, if we have judged it too hastily or over-critically, we’re sorry. We’d like to give you a second chance. And we’re sure we’ll find your equipment is better than we think.
It reminds me of a drinking-water van that drives around Pattaya delivering big refill bottles for office coolers. These are essential appliances in hot countries. Not only do they act as a focal point for people to gather and exchange gossip about the management but they prevent the workforce from dehydrating, desiccating to a crisp and being blown away as dust.
I exaggerate, but it’s true that bottled water is big business here, so big that competition is fierce. When you’re selling water there’s very little you can do to distinguish your product from that of the next company because water’s all the same:
‘Our water is a lot more watery than theirs.’
‘The wettest water in Pattaya.’
These won’t work, so you have to concentrate on other aspects of drinking water besides, er, drinking it. How does the brand make you feel? Is it empowering? Is it sociable? Does it sound healthy and invigorating? These are the areas that drinking water advertisements need to explore.
Which makes it all the more puzzling that this drinking water delivery van to which I have referred drives around Pattaya with the following slogan painted on its side: RIVER WATER.
Now when I was young and foolish I used to try to impress the girls by smoking menthol cigarettes known as Consulate. You did that too? Did it work with the girls? No, me neither. Anyway, Consulate’s advertising jingle was ‘Cool as a Mountain Stream’. You see what they were aiming at there? They wanted to tell me that their menthol cigarettes tasted cool and of course were cool, so cool that the girl of my dreams would sit with me on the mossy bank of some Highland brook wearing a flimsy cotton dress and gazing at me as if she was hungry and I’d just been dipped in chocolate with a cherry on the top.
I suspect that the drinking water van that drives around Pattaya was aiming for the same effect, though instead of invoking in our minds the image of a pristine beck tinkling over Alpine pebbles, for me it conjures up the Chao Praya. For those who haven’t ventured to these parts, that’s the huge river in Bangkok on which boats hurry hither and thither discharging gouts of diesel and into which one imagines the sewage of the city is dumped. It certainly looks that way.
If I were a bank manager and some dapper entrepreneur type came to me with a plan to bottle Chao Praya water and sell it to office workers I’d think he was off his noodle. It’s even worse that their drinking water is probably perfectly potable—it’s just the sign on the side of the van that makes people think of the bits of excrement that are going to get stuck in their drinking straws.
For my last example of modest advertising in today’s lecture, I shall turn to the property market. Property is booming in Pattaya. Lots of people want to come and live here, or the ones who are already here are having babies. Whatever, the skyline is a mass of cranes. A lot of the new space is apartments, or condos as we call them. They’re putting up blocks of condominiums like they’re made of Lego, which may be flattering their build quality, I don’t know.
What I do know is that the developers do a lot of advertising to tempt people to buy their units. And it’s not only advertising, it’s promotions too. Cash back, a free iPad, a bar of 24-carat gold, limited-time discounts, free cars, free furniture—the range of incentives is staggering.
But there’s one company I reckon that’s got the competition stitched up like a kipper. I saw their poster on the bypass that goes along the railway. There was their offer in black and white: FREE AIR.
I hear you ask, why is that modest? It’s like saying free walls or free light coming through the window or free access through the front door. Air’s always free. We get charged for everything and taxed on most of it, but they haven’t yet found a way of charging us to breathe. So the offer of free air is boastful and dishonest and will not attract a single buyer.
Ah, that’s what you think, but actually it will because in Thailand ‘air’ means ‘air conditioning’. They say ‘air’ here because they can’t pronounce ‘conditioning’. So the developer of these condos is being unconsciously and unintentionally modest to anyone who doesn’t know the Thai for ‘air conditioning’. But for people who do know what he means, he’s being a touch boastful in suggesting that his condos are better than the next chap’s just because there’s an A/C machine screwed to the living room wall. Me, I’d prefer the gold bar.
PS: Approaching Pattaya from the north, Highway 7 takes you past a poster which states simply: BORED PILES. Is this a warning of the unwelcome consequences of neglecting to keep your haemorrhoids sufficiently amused? Beware.