The Via Negativa in Advertising, or I’ve Got Plenty of Nuthin'(tm)

It all started many years ago when a friend of mine whose last name was Noone decided to run for public office. In fact, he never actually got around to it, but he had a great scheme for his ads—just put a space in the middle of his name. Like, “Who will give you honest government? No one.” “Who can get things done in Springfield? No one.” “Who can you trust? No one.”

And then a few years back, when I was still teaching a medical ethics-related course and put a lot of time into keeping up with developments in the field, I read a fascinating article about the placebo effect, and some scientist who wanted to harness it for the pharmaceutical companies. Of course, the FDA is still fairly strict about unsubstantiated claims, so he figured he would have to say, somewhere in the literature, that “this medication has no active ingredients.” Would people buy it anyway? He wasn’t sure, and nobody seems to have gone anywhere with that scheme either.

So when I heard an ad for an OTC painkiller the other night—“Nothing eases headache pain better than A****. Nothing fights muscle pain better than A*****. Nothing works better than A*****,” I suddenly realized that here was an idea for a brand new product. Nuthin’. (It’s a lot easier to trademark a misspelling than a real word, although the latter is not impossible—just ask Apple Records.) Nuthin’ gets your clothes cleaner than T***. Nuthin’ cures the common cold. Nuthin’ wards off the ills of aging, like gray hair and dementia. Nuthin’ helps you to lose weight without dieting or exercise—yes, even that last ten pounds. Nuthin’ can make your average balding fat middle-aged klutz overwhelmingly attractive to skinny gorgeous blondes. The possibilities are almost limitless, and the manufacturing costs are incredibly low. All the cost is in packaging and marketing.

Hands off, guys. I’ve trademarked it. Nuthin’ ventured, Nuthin’ gained.

Red Emma

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