Good, better, best


March 2018

Good, better, best

Superlatives are the meat and potatoes of watch advertising copy. That shiny new timepiece, whether it rolled off a production line in Shenzhen or emerged from an atelier on some craggy hillside in the Jura, has to be the thinnest or the finest or the lightest, the simplest or the most complicated, using the oldest technology or the newest, the hardest materials or the softest leather. If all else fails, it can always be the latest, at least for a week or two.


ut there are problems with using superlatives. Leaving aside the fact that they are boring and predictable, they also, technically, have to be true, if they are not to bring down the wrath of advertising standards agencies and, possibly, armies of lawyers. Happily for the world’s advertising copywriters, back in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, a group of Ancient Greeks called the Sophists devised an entire dictionary’s worth of sophisticated rhetorical devices that could be used to “inform, persuade or motivate”, through the skilful use of words to evoke emotions and create impressions.

The current incumbent of the White House may not be what is generally thought of as a skilled orator, but he is an enthusiastic exponent of rhetoric. If you pay attention to his next speech, you’ll hear examples of alogism (illogical statement), anacoluthon (moving to new topic of discussion before finishing the current one), analepsis (repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis) and apophasis (saying something by stating that you will not mention it). And I haven’t even got to the b’s yet. He is also well known for his use of superlatives, and, in The Art of the Deal, he defends his use of what he calls “truthful hyperbole” (the oxymoron is another useful rhetorical device): “It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” Watch companies seem to agree, and will often turn to hyperbole where superlatives are inappropriate or inadvisable.

Good, better, best

But times are changing. Watches are getting smaller again, less flashy. We’re tired of superlatives. What was eye-catching and desirable a couple of years ago now seems a bit… too much. And in this context, the growing attraction of vintage and pre-owned timepieces makes a lot of sense. People are no longer interested in the biggest or the shiniest; they want a bit less hyperbole and a bit more truth. It doesn’t matter if the dial is discoloured or the glass has a few scratches, or the lume has lost its radioactive glow; the person who first bought this watch just wanted a way of telling the time. They didn’t own a smartphone, and they didn’t take selfies. They just liked the watch.

I don’t know if there’s an Ancient Greek word for it, but there is a new one. “Humblebrag: an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.” It might not work in advertising copy, but you can try it out in daily life: “Sorry I’m late! I keep forgetting this old Daytona runs a little slow.” But then again…