We Are Ordinary, Amazing People

I happened to read our bottle of shower gel this morning. It has one of those “down to earth yarns” on the side of it which, reads in full: “We make our bottles with 30% recycled plastics. We’re working on making it more. Until then, it means we save the equivalent of 9 million new plastic bottles every year. That’s enough to reach the International Space Station and back. Not that we’ve tried.”

It’s an interesting text. I’ve always found the whole honesty-on-the-bottle ploy surprisingly effective in making me think of the presumably large corporation behind it more kindly. I like the idea of there being actual prose on my consumer product. I remember there was at least one beer that did this, too, and it also reminds me of the whole “good honest chocolate” campaign by Whittakers.

The “international space station” reference is kind of funny. I don’t even know where that thing is, or how far away it is, so there’s a sense in which it’s a poor frame of reference. On the other hand, we can safely assume it’s really far away and thus the statistic is impressive despite being somewhat unintelligible. Further, the words “international space station” lend an odd kind of cachet to the hypothetical tower of bottles. (Though: are they end to end, or in some other configuration?)

The thing I like most in the text is the “Not that we’ve tried.” at the end. I like the deflation of the grandiose claim, particularly the full-stop at the end. End of message. What’s especially interesting is that in the French version immediately below it says “Mais rassurez-vous, nous n’avons pas essayé!”. This translates to something like “But don’t worry, we haven’t tried!” and communicates an utterly different sense. For one thing, it seems slightly defensive – why? Perhaps because it would be a stupid and potentially wasteful thing to stack 9 million plastic bottles toward the international space station? For another, the exclamation point emits a kind of desperation to my reading, the quick retraction of an awkward kid who just said an awkward thing. As though they’re worried we might think that the mega-bottle-tower was an actual Body Shop project.

Is this connected somehow with the French psyche? Would a Parisian not enjoy the flatness of the humour in the English text in the same way I don’t enjoy the French version?

13 April 2010
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