Until recently there was a big billboard on the side of the expressway going to Bang Na. ''Make your life better,'' it shouted out to motorists in stark Thai lettering. ''Buy our stainless steel products.''
PHOTO: PORNPROM SATRABHAYA ILLUSTRATION: KANOKTHIP KHUNTEERAPRASERT
If only it were true. If only every time life drove me to the familiar edge of insanity here, I could just pop down to my local Lotus Supercentre and throw a stainless steel saucepan into my shopping cart. Think of the money I'd save on generic pharmaceuticals!
I'm aware that the thought of being able to take the edge off life via a stainless steel pot, instead of the usual Bacardi Breezer in the second drawer, was crazy. But imagine if it were true _ how wonderful, though surely the government would start outlawing stainless steel purchases between the hours of 2-5pm.
I was reminded of this billboard this week as I sat at home innocently watching Thai TV when a KFC ad popped up. KFC has launched a new ad campaign and no, unlike the stainless steel pots and pans, it doesn't purport to boosting your quality of life (though your cholesterol levels may go that way).
The new ad shows a gaggle of good-looking young Thai men and women, hormones raging, happy with their lives as they munch on delicious-looking batter with a hint of delicious chicken deep within. At the end pops up the slogan: ''So good.''
My eyes are not what they used to be, but I did detect a little round thing at the end of the word good. I did something I rarely do, since it plays havoc with my feelings of self-worth _ I kept watching Thai TV for another 10 minutes. At the next ad break those over-sexed Thais were back with their chickens, so this time I was prepared.
Sure enough. KFC. ''So good.'' Trade mark. Trade mark!
This surprised me far more than any saucepan claiming to replace my secret stash of Xanax.
I'm not protesting the claim that KFC is ''so good'' _ is there a better hangover cure in this world? Rather, the fact that KFC can trade mark those two words defies my comprehension, and sends me running into the kitchen to find that stainless steel saucepan to give it a big hug.
What is a trade mark?
It's a little TM in the corner of a company name or phrase to show that it can only be used with the permission of the trade mark owner. You think up a cute phrase and run off to the US Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, DC, and register it. And here's the catch: You are the only one allowed to use it with your product.
It means essentially that the next time I'm down at the Bull's Head pub, heaven help me if I sit at a table next to some hawk-eyed KFC executives and accidentally utter something like: ''Heavens! This Long Island iced tea is sooooo good!''
I could be slapped with a writ then and there, before I even get the chance to toss the boss.
These are the same execs who thought up ''Finger-Lickin' Good'', which is also a trade mark and understandably so. Outside of a KFC store and a pornographic DVD purchased on Sukhumvit Road, I can't think of any other situations where I'd hear that phrase. The same goes with ''I'm Lovin' It'', the trade marked slogan of McDonald's, but that's more because it's not something you'd say. It's clunky and we don't generally use the present continuous to express affection...but have you picked up the recurring theme here between fast food slogans and things you hear in pornographic videos? ''Oh, yes, YES, that's finger lickin' good! I'm lovin' it! I'm LOVIN' IT. So good!'' At least now we know where the fast food marketing execs look for inspiration.
How sad that ''So Good'' is now owned by a company that fries chickens and suddenly I can't use it. So sue me. Yesterday I blatantly infringed the trade mark. I have a whiteboard outside my modest yet successful language school at Ekamai. Normally it advertises new classes, or fantastic discounts on books written by me that refuse to shift at regular price. Yesterday I wrote on it ''Andrew Biggs Academy...So Good!'' and then sat inside, waiting for the writs.
Alas, none came, but the fact a company has laid claim to ''so good'' makes me wonder whether I should make a quick dash to Washington, DC, in order to trade mark every other common phrase in the English language before the multinationals do.
Have we gone too far with trade marks? Are big companies getting too big for their boots? Only weeks ago Fuji Xerox took out a quarter-page ad in the Bangkok Post because of a terrible disservice English speakers on planet Earth are doing to them _ they are using ''Xerox'' as a verb meaning to copy! And they want us to stop now! ''Xerox is a registered trade mark protected by law,'' the ad screamed out at me, causing me to jump and spill my morning cup of coffee. ''Its unauthorised use is expressly forbidden by law.''
Funny old Xerox; there it is in the enviable position of having a brand name that's part of the English language, yet they're stamping their feet about it. I'd give my right arm for people around the world to use my name to mean ''English language school'' or ''handsome'' or something.
Xerox may as well take out ads demanding the sun not rise tomorrow morning. In my next life I want to come back as a litigation lawyer for that company _ imagine issuing lawsuits to two billion English speakers. Not to mention the 60 million Thais who also use the word in their own language for ''copy''.
As soon as I read the Xerox ad I immediately Googled ''Xerox's most feared competitor'' and came up with Ricoh. I say from now on, people of the world, we should indeed forget about Xeroxed documents and start ''Ricoh-ing'' them instead. I'd love to be a fly on the Xerox boardroom wall when that starts to happen.
I wonder if other multinationals are going to start pouting about the tragic use of their names, which they spend billions of dollars throwing at us in ads and billboards yet cringe when they become everyday speech. Here in Thailand, Fab washing powder might like to stand in line _ since in the Thai language that word means the stuff you wash your clothes with. And didn't I just ''Google'' the word Xerox? Xerox might like to quietly glance over to Microsoft, desperate for the world to start ''Binging'' rather than ''Googling'', with extremely limited success.
I for one am going to ignore KFC's attempt at trade marking what is one of the most common phrases in the English language. And join me in spreading the word. Please Ricoh this column (after the hoovering, of course), pop an aspirin and stand on the corner of Sukhumvit and Asok with a Kleenex covering your mouth, distributing it to all who pass by.
And just to rub it in, the next time I'm in McDonald's I'm going to loudly proclaim that their French fries are ''soooo good''.
Then I'll dash over to KFC and announce that their Zinger Burger is so delicious that ''I'm loving' it''. See how much happier I am when I am trade mark-worry-free? And all without a single purchase of a stainless steel saucepan.