Sentence of the Week: Week 5

“…is thought to work by…”

If you have read, seen, or heard a drug company promote its products recently, you’ve heard this phrase. Watch this commercial from Pristiq, an anti-depressant from Pfizer. The phrase occurs at the 26-second mark.

Pristiq is not alone in this trend. Check out Avastin for colorectal cancer; Abilify for depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia; Lyrica for diabetic nerve pain; and Lunesta for insomnia. They all are “thought to work,” “believed to work,” or “may work” in specific ways. But the marketers never claim any of them “definitely work,” “actually work,” or are “proven to work” in any way whatsoever.

When I first heard “Pristiq is thought to work by affecting the levels of two chemicals in the brain: serotonin and norephinephrine,” I sat up and said, “Huh?”

You may have had a more erudite response, but I just couldn’t imagine that Pfizer’s lack of conviction about how their product worked could lead to any level of consumer confidence in its efficacy. Isn’t this the first rule of sales? You have to believe in the product to sell it? How can you believe in a product when you don’t even know how it works?

Imagine if you read the following statement in a press release: “The new Caterpillar D Series Mini Hydraulic Excavator, model 305D CR, is thought to have heavier counterweights that may enhance machine stability and might allow increased lift capacity.”

Are there any products that undergo a more rigorous testing procedure than drug products? But every other product makes a far more definitive claim than these do.

The whole thing makes me want to join Tom Cruise and the other nutcases over at the Scientology lab, who disbelieve in any drug therapy apparently because they flunked chemistry in high school. The only reason I don’t join up, of course, is these stupid drugs actually work and help people, in spite of what they tell you in their own commercials.

Oh yeah. Don’t even get me started on the passive voice in this sentence.

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Sentence of the Week: Week 4

“The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be.”

Apparently, I’m working a theme. Over these last couple of posts, I’ve developed the “I-don’t-know-where-the-heck-we’re-going” theme. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Google Ad
My future begins with coffee and the paper. Every morning.

 I found this sentence in an ad for – you guessed it – Google TV. (The complete copy is at the end of this post.) It represents something that corporate America seems to have lost sight of, which is the need for undirected research. My experience of the corporate world is that the only lever managers really work is cost control. Creating value, adding service, and building something new are difficult and risky, and in an era of tighter budgets and higher profit and loss accountability, few managers want to risk creation. Instead, they control.

Google and a few other companies support innovation. They do so by giving their employees the time to pursue their passions without direction. Consequently, we get breathtaking advances that we never could have anticipated. (Please know that I’m not putting Google TV in that category. For all I know, the ad copy may be better than the TV.)

The sentence I chose this week represents the uncertainty of the future and the desire to do things for the sake of doing things. But what I really like about this sentence is its simplicity and repetition. (I’m a sucker for repetition.)

The phrase, “the coolest thing about” opens and closes the sentence. In between, the word “Google” repeats the sounds of “coolest,” offering center to the balance. “TV” rhymes with “be,” creating end rhymes that are not obvious but still delightful. If this sentence were the front elevation of a building, you would find the equanimity of massing and repetition of elements to be very pleasing visually. The same is true of the sounds.

Read it out loud. It’s not poetry. It doesn’t scan, but it is fun.

Let’s be truthful, though. It is not a brilliant sentence. It is honest, though, and a good honest sentence at the end of some ad copy is worthy of notice.

My only complaint about the sentence is that it is not the last sentence of the ad. One other sentence follows: “Learn more at google.com/tv.” That sentence – the call to action – blows and undermines what could be a very powerful finish to the copy. Oh well. Nobody’s perfect. Not even Google.

Full Ad Copy

“Kids again.

We haven’t been this excited about TV since Saturday morning cartoons.

Not only are TVs the center of our living rooms, but five billion of us use them. That’s more than the number of people who use mobile phones or computers.

Knowing how the web radically transformed those devices, we wondered what it could do for the most ubiquitous screen in the world. Which is why we’ve been busy geeking out on how to make TV as awesome as possible.

The result, coming shortly, is Google TV.  It’s an adventure where TV meets web, apps, search and the world’s creativity. Like Android, we will make Google TV an open software platform. From the start, it will be able to work with any TV. And before long, anyone will be able to build applications for it.

The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be. Learn more at google.com/tv.”