September 10, 2006

Second-class products

I also find myself wondering what business people must be thinking when they name some of their products, but I think Bill's examples of fresh croissant vs. multi-grain croissant and Canadian class vs. first class are related to other head-shakers like pre-owned vs. new: the idea seems to be that changing the name (to something more positive-sounding) will change people's perception of the product (making them more positively inclined toward it). I go back and forth between thinking that this strategy is simply doomed to failure and wondering whether more people than I care to admit are suckered by it.

The interesting thing about Bill's examples, as he points out, is the implicature raised by the contrast with the other product's name: fresh croissant seems to be saying that the multi-grain crossaint is not fresh, and Canadian class seems to be saying that Canadians aren't good enough for first class. I'm sure that what was intended, though, was something like the following:

  • Folks who want to be/seem health-conscious but who scoff at the idea of a multi-grain croissant may feel better about their choice of a plain croissant because it's "fresh".

  • Folks who want to fly comfortably but who can't afford to fly first class may feel better about their choice of second class (more commonly called "coach", at least in the U.S.) because it's "Canadian", presumably because this makes it sound like it's the airline's signature class.

Note that this latter case is parallel with the pre-owned vs. new case: folks who want a good car but who can't afford to buy a new one may feel better about their choice of a used car because it's just "pre-owned", which makes it sound like it was well-cared for.

Another interesting example of this sort of thing is the use of the word vintage for clothing. I may be wrong about this, but it seems that this word was first applied to certain older styles of used clothing (and possibly also jewelry, furniture, etc.) that one would most likely find at a thrift store or garage sale. But then these styles became popular with a certain demographic, and were then co-opted by department stores where you can now buy "vintage" new clothing -- that is, brand-new clothes with a "vintage look" (e.g., pre-washed or even pre-torn) or in a "vintage style" (i.e., replicating an older style of clothing). So "vintage" has gone from being a substitute for "used/old" to being a substitute for "used/old-looking".

Right around the corner from my satellite office of Language Log Plaza, a store is opening next month called Vintage Religion, "Art, Antiques, Gifts, Home Accessories, Jewelry and Apparel Inspired by World Religions and Cultures". It's not clear what "vintage" substitutes for in this case. My guess it's now just a word that attracts a certain demographic with disposable income in my neighborhood.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at September 10, 2006 12:53 PM