Monday, April 14, 2008



A small car sales business in a small town not too far from my own uses the following sales slogan in newspaper ads, “We sell quality second-hand cars of the known makes”. Now, read that again and you will understand how difficult it was for me last week, when I saw their ad in the paper, to resist the temptation to ring them up and ask, “Hello, I’m looking for an unknown make of car. Now I know you only sell the known makes but by definition that either means you sell every single make of car there is or you have some inside information about what the unknown makes are, can you help?” Then, when they’d asked me what the hell I was rattling on about and what make of car I was looking for I’d say, “Well, of course I’m referring to your sales slogan and the make I’m looking for is a Murphy-Svensson, do you know where I can buy one?”

Then of course, just before they dismissed me as an idiot and told me not to call back I would shout Ssangyong as loudly as I could, just before they slammed the phone down, not wishing to associate themselves with unknown Korean vehicles.

Knowledge is exactly what it says on the tin. For any given field, subject, object, or concept you either possess it or you don’t. One can’t claim, as many experts in various fields do, to know that, “what we know is only a fraction of what there is to know in this area of study, the unknown in this field is comprised of perhaps another 75% on top of what we know now.” Really, Mr Scientist, how do you know that? What do you base that on?

This kind of reasoning which crops up in almost every field of social, political and scientific study reminds me of the fantastic sketch the Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson performed back in the early 90s, when he was still a stand-up comic supporting the likes of Eddie Izzard and Billy Connolly and before he started appearing in terrible American sitcoms. (He is the Scottish executive in Drew Carey).

The first two lines of the sketch are all I need to make his point (at the time) and mine now.
In a heavy Scottish accent, “Right, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, I am going to talk about the unknown…oooooh…spooky stuff….oooooh.. Right, what do we know about the unknown? …..long pause….. Well, nothing, because it’s unknown!”

Anyway, if you know the name of a car make but you don’t want to sell it that doesn’t make it unknown. Unreliable, unfavourable and un-sellable in your mind perhaps but far from unknown, because you have made an active choice not to sell certain makes, therefore they cannot be unknown to you.

I dare say that at some point in the future I won’t be able to resist ringing them up any longer and one day hope to be driving around my home town in a brand new Murphy-Svensson built in Pakistan or Norway!