Any actor – or acquaintance of such – worth his or her salt (and with a position to keep up in the world of luvvie), must maintain a repertoire of phrases which whilst superficially seeming to praise a play or performance actually do no such thing. This allows the social niceties to be observed without the need to stray into falsehood and perjury. The title is one example, but I’m sure the late Ned Sherrin could furnish many more – sadly, the task of finding others has proved to lie behind my own meagre internet searching skills.
This fact was brought home to me yesterday, not as a result of any theatrical trauma but as a result of seeing a couple of corporate slogans emblazoned on their owner’s assets. Both of these seemed superficially to promise much, but could be read as promising a negative outcome just as validly as a positive one.
First Group, purveyors of privatised rail and bus services, seem to favour the slogan “Transforming travel” – sometimes augmented with an additional adjective to indicate the type of travel which is to be transformed (I saw it on a yellow bus as “Transforming school travel”). Unfortunately, they do not promise that this will be a positive transformation for the traveller (or anyone else) – which, I guess, in an ever changing universe (curse you, entropy!) makes it a very easy promise to keep (requiring, as it does, absolutely no effort on the part of First Group).
Later in the day, I passed a gym run by Fitness First which promised that we would “Never have an average workout again” (I assume as a consequence of patronising their establishment). As before, there was no indication that any future workout would be better than average: just a commitment to avoid the mean (or perhaps the mode or median, the promise was unclear on this point). A trickier promise to deliver given the well-known tendency of reversion to the mean and the habit of the average to change over time. This could require a programme of continuous deterioration (or improvement) in workouts: or a need for gym visits to vacillate randomly in terms of outcome.
I suspect this wheeze is not only employed by companies with the word ‘First’ in their name (and some of whose assets I happened to pass yesterday). Are teams of writers employed to come up with slogans which seem to promise something but which, if read properly (or challenged in a court of law), actually commit the companies using them to doing (or worse yet, delivering) little or nothing? Does GofaDM need such a noncommittal mission statement to move it to the next level in terms of customer engagement? If so, I’m sure I could draft an equally vacuous slogan to deliver my empty promises to you, dear reader. Your wish is, very occasionally, consonant with my own desires and so could (from a distance) be confused with my command.