Curiouser and Curiouser

My vigilant girlfriend forwarded me Dan Neil’s take on the National Geographic Channel’s new ad campaign, which centers on the grammar-unfriendly tag Live Curious. I’ll let Mr. Neil explain why that’s wrong and how it doesn’t work. And I’ll congratulate him for taking NGC to task for creating a marketing campaign that hangs on confounding and empty phraseology. (“Live Curious” is only the beginning of the campaign’s problems.)

A lot of creatives who make a lot more money that I do have made it common practice to consider language as pliable as imagery. Consider all the word mash-ups (SportsCenter), nonsensical all-capitals (LIVESTRONG—also a word mash-up and, like Live Curious, an incorrect adverbial phrase; double bonus!), and plainly fabricated words (Accenture) that the world’s marketers throw at us. It’s to the point where words on a page or screen have been freed from the bonds of common sense.* In the hands of certain creatives, language becomes just another element to a logo, no different from colors, textures, and shapes.

I’m going to fight the urge to take a swipe at folks who work in dog-friendly environments outfitted with foosball tables and slides down to the cafeteria. Instead, I’ll close with this hopeful query: at what point will clean, grammatical English seem so different and eye-catching that it becomes the new old thing among marketers? When will it gain the vintage cachet of a Mad Men episode? Not too soon for me.

*I may sound like a crab by using the phrase “common sense,” but break it down and you’ll see how it’s imperative to language. I’m referring to a sense or understanding that’s common to all of us. Like, the kind of thing I would think marketers and creatives aspire to achieve.

8 Responses to “Curiouser and Curiouser”
  1. Ian Bonner says:

    I think the “correct” version of the tagline “live curiously” makes more of a thud. To me that has a connotation of “live in an odd fashion” and not “at all times, be curious” which, I believe, is the intended meaning.

    I had to refresh myself on my transitive/intransitive verbs so I’m probably wrong, but doesn’t using “live” as an imperative change things? For instance one would say “don’t go to bed angry” and not “don’t go to bed angrily” (or at least they have very different meanings).

  2. Pat says:

    OK, first off, “Live Curious” is such a clunky example of ad-speak that it sounds like parody. But I don’t think the grammar problem is a big deal. I believe “live curious,” while questionable at best from a strict grammar perspective, has a very different meaning than “live curiously” would have. The former means being curious at all times. The latter means acting strangely. It’s the difference between “living scared” and “living scarily.” So, I think a case can be made that precision of meaning overrules the grammar issue.

  3. BartE says:

    How about:
    “NGC: Global eye candy”
    “The world in HD”
    “Live vicariously”

  4. Pat says:

    I’m with Ian.

  5. cbgaines says:

    This is why I shouldn’t write a post right before Thanksgiving. I travel for the holidays, and the readers revolt.

    Pat and Ian are correct that “Live Curiously” would be worse—and express a different meaning than—”Live Curious.” And I concede that if the viewer can jump through a few hoops of thought, “Live Curious” technically works.

    But it still points up the divergence between pliable market-speak and clear language. “Be Curious” would obviously be sharper and easier to understand, but it would also be plainer. And I’d have to guess that “Be” doesn’t test as well as “Live.” “Be” equals passiveness and “Live” equals action(!).

    The problem with this type of word-as-image vetting is that is neglects the importance of the words working in concert with each other. “Live Curious” either causes puzzlement among viewers, or acts as a word bomb, conjuring all manner of meanings and abstract images. I can hear a marketer saying, “Exactly!” But I maintain that language is best wielded with sharp intent and within the bounds of linguistic convention. That way, you actually say something.

  6. Barry says:

    Advertising has precedent for this anyway:

    “Think Different.”

  7. Pat says:

    If I were in charge, the slogan would be: “Live your life in an inquisitive manner, so you may better understand the world around you. That way, when you’re faced with obstacles or seemingly unsolvable problems, you’ll be more likely to find solutions through innovation. National Geographic demands it!”

  8. Erik says:

    That’s quite catchy.

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