Forty years of Suffixgate

Creative Commons image by eflon

Very simply stated, the advertising/marketing/branding business revolves around words and their effect. Since my humble “copy cub” beginnings, I have continued to be fascinated with how certain words or phrases become part of the vernacular.

Examples include brand names that have become generic: Thermos, Kleenex, Band-aid and Rollerblades are but a few. I was once part of an ad agency creative team that attempted to fight a brand name genericization. The client was concerned that “Bobcat” was becoming the term for all skid steer loaders and a futile marketing campaign entitled “Copy Cat” did nothing to change that.

As an unabashed baseball nut, I’ve also found the common use of idiomatic expressions derived from this great sport quite interesting. One needs to “step up to the plate”, sometimes “play hardball” and “go to bat for someone”, but hopefully avoid getting “thrown a curveball”. Have you ever been asked to provide a “ballpark estimate”? And of course we all remember high school discussions regarding “getting to first base”. Doubles, triples and homeruns in that context will not be discussed here.

This all leads me to almost forty years of “Suffixgate”. In 1972, the country was transfixed by the burglary of the Democratic Party national headquarters in the Washington, D.C. Watergate building. Since then, Watergate has reshaped the language of scandal and controversy. Numerous scandals or cover-ups have taken on a life of their own by merely adding the suffix “gate” to their names.

During the mid eighties, we had “Iran-Contragate”. Bill Clinton had to suffer through, among other controversies, “Whitewatergate”. Both Clinton and Sarah Palin had their own version of “Troopergate”. In 2009, “Climategate” was in the news.

Now, we have “Weinergate”. Wonderful material for comedians and water cooler snickers, but also indicative of how technology has progressed concerning our “gates”over these almost forty years. Watergate conjures up cold war images of a break-in in the dark of night by shadowy individuals intent on photographing “secret papers”. “Weinergate”, however, is a cutting edge scandal…a supposedly social media savvy politician brought down by his very risky use of social media.

Evidently, Congressman Weiner committed a rookie mistake by fumbling Twitter’s Direct Message (DM) features – used to send private messages between Twitter users – turning a private message into a public tweet.

Watergate to Weinergate. Scandal, coverup and politicians falling from grace. Technology has changed, but these “gates” exemplify another cliché: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wayne Kranzler is the CEO of KK BOLD. He hopes the term “Kranzlergate” will never need to be coined, although he fears it probably will.

Posted on June 16, 2011 in KK BOLD

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