A couple of days ago, it was sleeting outside my apartment. I was told that in other parts of Paris, it was snowing. One can argue how subtle the differences may be, the distinction must still be made. The reason being, that we are seduced by language.
As an inhabitant of a tropical country for just over 20 years, I have only seen snow once in my life. That was in Mongolia, in summer, and it lasted for fifteen minutes. It was snow alright, the vast grasslands had turned into a blanket of snow, only to return to its vibrant green just ten minutes fter.
So a ‘snowing’ Paris will make a much more novel experience than a ‘sleeting’ Paris.
Language, used with wit and persuasion, is part of the obsession with packaging, and we are obsessed with style. I am just as acquainted with the advertising industry as everyone else – being a consumer. But that’s all I need to be, to know how I am influenced by a splendid book cover or a delicate chocolate box. Don’t be mistaken though, we are not innocent victims of advertising; we participate in this costly yet pervasive game of presentation.
When I first arrived in Paris, I took the liberty to visit Ladurée for the essential dose of macarons. By default, they packed the macarons in boxes of 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and so on. But you can pay extra (of a significant bit) for exquisitely-designed versions of these boxes. From a peek at its website, I can get a “Arabesques” box, or a “Bonaparte” box if I fancy. I would already be glad to receive a box of Ladurée macarons (whether they’re the best or not, I’ll leave that to another day,) would I be much happier to receive a beautiful box of Ladurée macarons?
This is a tough question. Unless I’m able to quantify this ‘happiness’ and substantiate it with evidence, I dare not jump to any conclusion from the recipient’s point of view. I think it’s much easier to answer as the gift- giver – it does make a difference. Ladurée, and many other pâtisseries, is offering these higher-tier packaging because there is a demand for it. As a gift-giver, I would feel that these macarons make a better gift when pleasantly arranged in a gift box, although they will still taste the same and the box will probably end up somewhere in the storage room.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to the world of macarons; it is everywhere – not only just of products, but also of ourselves. We advertise ourselves. To find a job, we have to first market our credentials on portfolios, and then to promote our soft skills during interviews. To find a spouse, we have to do so much more. In fact, some of us may even advertise our stellar careers to find a spouse. With language, we seduce, and we gossip (to expose infidelity and thereby reducing one’s mating potential in human society.) Perhaps human language turned out to be so complicated, to facilitate our chances of securing a mate. This is no surprise; we have bower birds building intricate structures, frogs croaking in the symphony of the night, and butterflies performing their choreography of courtship dances etc.
There is no need to place any value-judgement on advertising here. It may have its excesses, but it has become an intrinsic part of our natures. We respond to advertising, and we exploit it. One who wields it well, subtly or not, may or may not succeed in life. One who doesn’t, will have a difficult, perhaps lonely, road ahead.
That said, style without substance is but a hollow dream.