The Reality Institute

Now That’s Good Copy by Seth Blake

Probably, you don’t need me to tell you this but people are trying to sell you things. Take this morning, for example. As usual, I awoke to find myself at the kitchen table cradling a pot of coffee to my bosom, a burning sensation in my nose, throat and bosom. On the plate in front of me sat a naked banana. So far, this was acceptable. Suddenly, however, I happened to blink and whammo—there was the ad for Zoo Balls™ flickering away on the inside of my eyelids, the sound and the fury of its manic battle hymn ringing in my ears.

You remember Zoo Balls™—“What looks like an animal and bounces like a ball? Here come Zoo Balls™!” As advertisement copy, this simple call and response jingle is highly effective though it is neither rhymed nor particularly sexy. First, it gets your gears cranking with a playful interrogative. Indeed, what is it  (for an it it seems to be) that recalls an “animal” in its physical aspect (the mind is a ferment of swirling taxonomies: Bird? Beast? Reptile? Damn—it could be most anything!) and yet also may be said to “bounce(s) like a ball” (blood and steam pour from your ears)? Clearly, there is no sane answer but before you can realize this and forgive yourself for failing to reply immediately, you’re savaged by the seeming non-sequitur, “Here come Zoo Balls™!” The message is suddenly clear. Not only is there, in fact, a product that “looks like an animal and bounces like a ball” but it is not content waiting around for you, or anyone else. A chorus of hyper-caffeinated adults sing the jingle, children dance, whip Zoo Balls™ at one another, cuddle them, juggle them and shove them dangerously close to the camera lens. “Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you?” Young and old alike; Zoo Balls™; no time; immediately!

Of course, the Zoo Balls™ commercial was hardly remarkable for its time. Anyone who cares to look back will remember the mid / late 1990s adscape as having a particularly feverish hyperrealist bent, with speed and hyperbole (visual and otherwise) being the stylistic elements most highly prized and frequently employed—saturated colors, truly unhinged voiceovers, manic montage, teeming frames, criminally catchy jingles. I remember Zoo Balls ™mostly because my father, who occasionally has trouble hearing, was once walking down the hall past the living room while the advertisement was blaring, when he paused, poked his head in and asked, “Did they just say, ‘what looks like an enema and bounces like a ball’?” Perhaps this was mere coincidence, but I often wonder just how much guile goes into ad production, especially in these times of comparative sublimity and subtlety. Could whoever designed the Zoo Balls™ ad have intended to make “animal” sound like “enema” as a secret seed of transcendent strangeness that would enable it to flower into a maddening, permanent distraction; endlessly recursive, fecund, fetid, unforgettable (unless perhaps you cough up and buy one)? What other agents are covertly traversing my brains even now, installing wires, practicing handshakes, learning my schedule, studying my habits, talking to my friends, sipping coffee, waiting? Yes, I fear they have long understood that even seeming disruptions in communicative efficacy can often be the most efficacious communicators.

But, I have an idea. I think we can disrupt their stratagems. They want us to never forget and in service to that cause they have erected seemingly absurd matrices of word, image, and sound whose elements have been specially calibrated to communicate only this; “pay attention.” In order to break their code, we need to study it, co-opt it, employ it against them to our own enlargement and their travail. We can re-enchant their language. We can make it ours again by doing what they have done better than they have done themselves. We can make it self-consciously, transcendentally, gloriously silly. We can rob their seemingly absurd matrices of their efficacy to promote purchasing by examining each element in isolation. In so doing, we can reveal the true absurdity of their cohabitation. We can turn their nonsense into non-sense. It’ll be a game. Like many of us, perhaps, I am not much of a poet but I know how to use scissors.

The field of play: This blog.
Materials: Remixed ad copy. For now, I shall work only with print copy. Babysteps. If the experiment is successful, I may move on to radio and television ad scripts.
Objectives: Identify what kind of product to which the remixed copy is referring.
Conditions for Victory: Correctly identify the type of product to which the remixed copy is referring / Incorrectly identify the type of product to which the remixed copy is referring / Amusement.
Conditions for Defeat: Surrender / Madness.
Proscriptions: N/A
Spoils: Satisfaction, baby!
Begin: Now.


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by Seth Blake

an Editorial Assistant for Black Clock and an MFA Writing candidate at CalArts

One Response to “Now That’s Good Copy by Seth Blake”

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