Playwright George Bernard Shaw has said that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language,” and as I’m based in the U.K., I know this only too well. In the U.S., you leave out the letter “u” from a lot of words, and pants have a whole different meaning over there. This causes no end of headaches for the EIC, as he has to “correct” my English for the site’s readership, but at least I can claim to be bilingual now – I can type in U.S. and U.K. English.
Case in point: global marketing slogans. Apple seems to understand them: when it launches an iPod, the slogan is simple and unambiguous – “1000 songs in your pocket.” No real issues with “pocket” meaning anything other than a small pouch-like compartment, most likely in your clothes. But Microsoft has now trotted out its new slogan for Zune: “Welcome to the Social.” Or as it appears on the Zune’s package, which you can see opened up by General Manager of Marketing for Microsoft (and British ex-pat) Chris Stephenson:
Try to ignore all the spin that went into the little video (brown is the new black? Where did they draw their focus groups from? Gardeners?), and just focus on that phrase. For American audiences – the target audience for the Zune, according to MacDailyNews – this is just a way of saying “welcome to the party” or “welcome to the community.” But here in the U.K., “the social” is a phrase used to denote that someone is claiming benefits from Social Security, such as housing allowance, unemployment benefit or other state handout – “they’re on the social.” In other words, buy a Zune and it’s “welcome to the welfare line,” first thing out of the box.
Such a tagline only makes sense if you realize that Microsoft never sticks with one marketing message for too long, and apparently wasn’t planning to release a Zune player in the United Kingdom until 2008, at least, according to Microsoft’s U.K. Media Director Gordon Frazer. By the time it is released on this side of the pond, the company could have dreamed up all sorts of new slogans, any one of which might seem less amusing than this one. Mind you, the choice of name was a bad one, not just because of the widely-reported Hebrew and Québécois meanings of the word, but for some reason Zune reminds me of throat lozenges. Ones with a nice honey center. And the possible gaffes do not end there.
On a serious note, I’m actually hoping that the Zune arrives in the U.K. before 2008, and that in a way it ensures that Apple does not rest on its laurels. Competition is good and healthy competition is even better. As long as it’s not brown.