Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's a cookbook!

I’ve been thinking about Gricean implicature—I think more people should use Gricean analysis in interpreting advertising claims. For example, Pirate’s Booty uses the slogan “Good for You.” The founder claims that the phrase “Good for You” on a bag of Tings (eight grams fat) isn’t “so much a claim as a congratulation: ‘You bought this bag — well, good for you!’ In [conversation with NYT columnist Rob Walker], he stuck with this, pointing out that the product contains no MSG and no preservatives, and therefore the buyer deserves a pat on the back for choosing a snack that’s not so bad ….”

As Walker’s commentary indicates, this “explanation” doesn’t pass the laugh test. It’s a slimy equivocation, and I suspect that better attention to Grice would help more people appreciate why.

Post title courtesy of Zachary Schrag; explanation here.


  1. On this one, we are in 100% agreement. I'm sure that if you asked most consumers what this claim meant, they wouldn't read it as a congratulation, they would read it as a health claim. This is precisely the sort of situation that Rest.(2d) Torts 527 is aimed at: people using language in idiosyncratic ways, and then arguing that they are immunized when the rest of the world fails to perceive their private meaning.

    I'd love to see him try to sell this sleazy defense to a jury.

  2. Rather than grapple with what standard or technique to apply in evaluating advertising materials, I just use the standard that was used in creating the ad in the first place. The people who make ads know perfectly well what they're communicating...

  3. And then there's the intranslatability, or detachability!

    Try to say "Good for you!" in any language other than English, or to implicate what one may claim it does by any other idiom, and fail?


    And welcome to post at the