Zen and the Art of Making Stuff Cooler

Via Coe Douglas
on Aug 5, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Take a moment and google “Zen and the art of” and see what comes back. There are, according to google, 4,950,000 results. It’s overwhelming. Now google, “The Zen of” and see what you get. (Hint: You’ll get another 23,100,000 results. Damn.)

Sadly, most of the Zen references have nothing to do with Zen at all.

So when did Zen get to be so cool? And when did it become such a great positioning tool for marketers? It must work however, because the Zen references are all over the place. As an advertising creative, I’m starting to think that I missed the Zen boat on this whole Zen thing.

If only I’d paid attention I might have in my portfolio right now a really minimal, cleanly laid out ad for my former grocery store client with the headline, “Zen and the Art of Getting a 12 Pack of Coke FREE when you Buy One At Regular Price.”

Maybe it all started with the massively well-known “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” which according to author Robert M. Pirsig “should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice.”

What then does the Zen part in these references really signify? Simplicity? Focus? Concentration? For example, why not just “The Art of Castle Maintenance” and not “Zen and the Art of Castle Maintenance?”

Here’s another one: The Zen of Law Librarian Job Interviews. Okay, now we’ve just gone plain crazy. Why not really Zen it up and make the title something like “The Zen of Law Librarian Job Interviews and Not-Job Interviews.”

The point is that Zen is one of those marketing words that one could seemingly apply to anything in order to add mystique, weight or some sage-filled allure.

Here’s mine: Zen and the Art of Adding Mystique To Any Product or Service by Adding Zen To It.

Not sure how any of these references would fit with Zazen, unless the long, grueling, actual act of Law Librarian job interviewing was it’s own Zazen. Or maybe it’s all actually Zen and not-Zen. Good and not good.

Or, maybe we should simply pay it no mind.


About Coe Douglas

Coe Douglas is a recovering ad agency creative director. He currently works as a freelance writer, brand strategist and occasional music video director. Whenever possible he tries to use his creative powers for good. This fall he’ll be returning to school to immerse himself in books and journals with the intention of emerging after a few years with a graduate degree in psychology. Coe teaches yoga and thinks everyone should meditate and go veggie. He blogs and lives online at coedouglas.com.


2 Responses to “Zen and the Art of Making Stuff Cooler”

  1. Very funny and direct. I love your posts — they're always right on and insightful!

  2. Newshoes522 says:

    I always laugh when I see the Zen Alarm Clock advertised in Yoga Journal. Seems a little oxymoronic (heavy on the MORON) to me. 😀