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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Do I detect somebody being “creative”? Oh dear.

Life is full of laughable little details.

I’m writing this in Zurich en route from New York to Vienna where I hope not to bore some bankers to tears.

The high point of my trip so far was on one of those little trains that whiz you from one terminal to another. There I was, standing morosely in a jet-lagged haze, when just before we jolted to a stop there suddenly came the amplified blast of an Alpenhorn – you know, like an ordinary horn but MUCH louder. This certainly got my attention, especially as it was followed after a brief pause by a very loud burst of choral music and then, just as I was recovering, the amplified sound of a cow mooing.

There was no explanation for this cacophony. I decided it was either a huge practical joke or some sort of Swiss welcome. But at 11 in the morning after a seven hour flight, I can tell you this sort of thing does nothing for the equilibrium.

You can just see how it came about, though, can’t you? The airport people, not content with doing their job by providing a little box that takes you quickly and quietly from one terminal to another probably decided they should do something to symbolize Switzerland. So they called in some denim-jacketed creative consultants who, after a number of demented meetings, came up with this surreal idea – cows, alpenhorns, a burst of loud choir music – then after handing the airport people a handsome bill left smiling in search of the next mug.

This is on a small scale how those scamps at Wolf, Olins managed to rip the London Olympics people off with that hideously ugly logo; but the utterly pointless and airlines somehow seem to go together.

Before boarding at JFK whilst knocking back some Sam Adams beer I saw a poster for Lufthansa. It featured a man smiling vaguely, the way you do when the photographer says, “smile”. The words accompanying this were: “Speaking the international language of international connections. All for this one moment.”

“What moment?” I wondered. The one where you realise you’re at the wrong terminal? The one where you get a dry sandwich wrapped in plastic that you can’t get into? The one where they tell you the flight’s an hour late?

As if this drivel were not enough, there was another line: “There is no better way to fly than Lufthansa”. And in the good old fashioned way, from those neanderthal days when they thought repetition was a means of persuasion, the Lufthansa name was displayed four times in the poster. Probably the sad sods think this is how you build a brand. Not really, mein herren.

This poster was all over the place, and is all over the world. What folly. Does it give a single coherent reason for choosing Lufthansa? Who thought it up? Who approved it? Who sanctioned such a waste of money? Isn’t there a recession in the airline business? Why not use the money to bribe their stewardesses to smile? God knows they ought to try to occasionally.

Now we’re on the subject of stupid advertising I haven’t the patience to go into that pompous drivel from HSBC about how the world would be so much worse if we all agreed about everything (good reason to choose a bank, right?) but this sort of bollocks at airports reminds me of one of Dr. Johnson’s better insults about Sheridan:

“Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken a deal of effort to become as we see him now. Such an excess of stupidity is not in nature”.

All this nonsense is indeed stupid, ineffably stupid; but it takes a great deal of effort to piss away money in so many pointless ways.

Interestingly, one firm that doesn’t indulge in it is Ryanair. They are obsessed with a) making their planes on time and b) selling things. They don’t waste a penny on branding. They appear to be doing quite well.

By the way, the girls on Swissair do smile. Thank you, ladies.

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