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Don’t Buy “Rich Corinithian Leather” Either!

Ricardo Montalban for Chrysler

Oh, Ricardo, you silver-tongued huckster.

The opposite of “discount sushi” is “Rich Corinthian Leather.” If you’re an old coot like me, you may remember that back in the day, Ricardo Montalban used to peddle cars for Chrysler; he’d purr in his smooth accent about the “rich Corinthian leather” interior in the new Chrysler Cordoba. Ooooh! That sounds so expensive and stylish, doesn’t it? Have you ever wondered what the heck “Corinthian leather” is?

It’s advertising copy. The term was invented by a copywriter for the ad agency Bozell in 1974. (Bozell is also known for having come up with “Got Milk?” and “Pork. The Other White Meat.”) In other words, “Corinthian leather” is a term invented to get you to spend more money on a car in the false belief that its interior is lush, expensive and imported. In truth, “Corinthian” leather does not come from Corinth, a Greek city southwest of Athens, it comes from New Jersey. It is exactly the same leather you’ll find in any other car.

In my vocabulary, “Rich Corinthian Leather” is the term for when somebody tries to get you to pay extra for something without providing any extra value, usually by giving it a fancy name to make you think there’s an additional benefit.

Sure, if you have the cash, you may feel that paying a whole lot more at Gelson’s for the same stuff you can get at Ralph’s is worth it, simply because you don’t have to share the aisles with people in stained sweatpants pushing a cart full of pork rinds and off-brand beer. Or maybe it’s important to you to have the right label on your clothes so that people don’t mistake you for one of the common folk. If that’s the case, and you can afford it, go ahead and buy the $45 Ralph Lauren shirt ($20 for the shirt, $25 for the polo player embroidered on it). It’s a free country, do what you like.

But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. Those things fall under the heading of “perceived value”; they give you some reason why you should pay extra for the item, based on some additional benefit that you believe is worth the money, be it status, comfort, convenience or quality, or maybe just for the sake of fashion and self-image. If that works for you, rock on.

But if you are fundamentally a cheapskate like me, you’re not going to fall for ad copy. By all means pay whatever you have to to get the quality you need, but don’t get suckered into paying extra for a nonexistent feature. I’m certain that it’s just a matter of time before some swanky restaurant with a celebrity chef renames their ketchup “tomato aioli”, but I’m not going to be dumb enough to fall for it.

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Jim

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