Tuesday, June 3, 2003

''X' marks spot for marketers

Quick way to appeal to a young audience

By Gina Daugherty
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's an X-citing time for the letter X. Everything from movies to artists to sports is marketed with the 24th letter of the alphabet these days - somewhere between the Nissan X-terra, the X-Box and Xtreme sports, X has become synonymous with danger and youth. If advertisers want to get X amount of attention, they better X-amine the trend.

"It's a shortcut to communicate the things advertisers want to say to youths, like danger, irreverence and edginess," says Rebeca Arbona, vice president of Northlich, an advertising and public relations firm in Cincinnati.

"Right now, X is an adjective for those things, when really it is a letter. I would say that if you put an X in front of anything, kids would say that whatever it is was launched in 2001 or later and that speaks to them."

Consciously or not, X conjures images of something just beyond the realm of decency and goodness. Think the X-rating on films; Mr. X for that mystery man, and Brand X for generic goods you don't want your friends to see in your bathroom.

X: Greek letter Chi.
X-mas: Have a merry one.
Xenophobia: Fear of strangers.
X (Ecstasy): Illegal "rave" drug.
Xenia: A city in Ohio (Greene County).
X chromosome: One of the sex chromosomes.
Xylophone: A musical percussion instrument.
X-ray: Revolutionized the medical industry.
Xanadu: Stately mansion (think Citizen Kane).
XXX: A size for large folks; a really dirty movie.
X: The first set of an unknown quantity in math.
Malcolm X: Civil rights activist and Nation of Islam leader;
• took the surname "X" to signify his lost tribal name.
Xtreme: Sports for daredevils with cycles and skateboards.
Xavier: Home of the Musketeers; 16th-century Jesuit missionary.
St. X: High school in Cincinnati, named for missionary above.
"X Files": Mulder and Scully showed us something was out there.
Xenon: A heavy, colorless, odorless gas, one of the noble gases.
"X-Men": Comic book and films starring superheroes who battle aliens.
Rebecca Southerland Borah, an assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati and a pop-culture buff, says X has a long history as a symbol to be reckoned with. It is sometimes referred to as the blasphemous letter that is the St. Andrew's cross. It is the symbol that marks a treasure on a pirate's map.

It's also the letter assigned to cartoon bottles of alcohol and boxes of dynamite, which may be onto something - in today's youth climate, X means: look at me - I'm

X-rated, X-citing and irr-X-istible.

"Visually, X is a very bold statement,"

Borah says. "It makes a big design statement when used as art. It looks attractive. It sounds attractive.

"It evokes the young and hip and edgy, yet it doesn't seem like it goes with the establishment. But at the same time, it is used by the establishment. It has that ironic twist to it."

X-actly. That's why other letters are being X-cluded - they don't have that ironic irreverence that X has.

O comes close. Q and Z have a certain cachet.

But right now, X marks the spot.

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