Mark Twain Would Get It

The mailbox delivered an ominous warning from Sports Illustrated magazine today.

“Please contact us now if you don’t wish to receive the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.”


Can there be a current SI subscriber out there with at least one Y chromosome who would prefer to drop that issue?

There must be.  Perhaps Sports Illustrated has had repercussions in the past. So, as empowered subscribers, who wish to avoid fast moving frying pans, icy stares and “Nothing…” responses to the question, “What’s wrong?” we can now dictate our preferences, setting up a no-fly zone for the magazine.

tom sawyer

“If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it…”

It is good marketing though.   SI has distinguished itself as a graduate cum laude of the Mark Twain school of the negative tease, majoring in the iconic lesson of  Whitewashing 101.  Tom Sawyer dupes his unwitting victim, Ben Rogers, into finishing Aunt Polly’s fence.

As Twain wrote: “Tom had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” 

That’s the lesson we all learned back when Mark Twain was still persona grata.

Of course we want our swimsuit issue, because it is February.

Here’s the post graduate thesis on the same technique: “Please Bre’r Fox, you can hang me, burn me, drown me, but don’t throw me into that briar patch!” Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus, also under the same P.C. cloud as Twain, delivers this line for Bre’r Rabbit who plots his escape.

The negative tease lesson has stuck, and now we can see the current rendition, heavy in nuance, pertaining to certain male drug prescriptions.  You can bet this one would have raised Aunt Polly’s eyebrow in the parlors of Hannibal, MO back then:  “Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex.”  

Never mind.   As long as the noxious side effects of all those other prescriptions don’t click in, we’ll be fine.

Still, the envelope has been pushed dangerously farther into each corner with this, the ultimate winning teaser, magna cum laude, the mind-addling warning “...for-more-than-four-hours-you-should-seek-medical-assistance“, courtesy of the makers of– you know, the one with the two tubbed bathers watching the sunset on the cliff.

The challenge on Madison Avenue today is to invent the next tease that eclipses any of those above.   It’s not easy.

For instance, the $1,000,000 term life insurance policy tease: “Your beneficiaries better have investment counsellors in place by 3:37 tomorrow afternoon.

See?  It needs work.

In any event, Sports Illustrated readers are standing guard by their mailboxes around the clock, prepared to intercede in the imminent delivery attempt of the magazine.

It’s a very challenging task.  Risky.  Not done easily, nor successfully by many. Still, thousands will want to try.