Isaac Asimov's face used to shill in sleazy ad

Scott Edelman sez, "I was surprised to spot Isaac Asimov's head bouncing around this morning in an ad for Pimsleur Approach. I don't recall him ever writing anything on that subject, or hearing him pontificate on it, and a Google search only turns up a single reference that connects the two -- and that's for people who are equally as pissed off at seeing a great man misused by it as I am! A photo of Isaac Asimov is not a stock image that can be used to imply endorsement. I've written both companies to ask WTF is going on, and will let you know what I find out."

WTF? Why is Isaac Asimov’s face being used to shill in a Huffington Post ad? (Thanks, Scott!)


  1. You know, the originator’s real response is going to be ‘Awesome! Lotta buzz on this ad.’ And then the Arthur Clarke ad will get released, along with Douglas Adams, Charles Sheffield… etc.

  2. I think this is simply a mistake. Other “Language Professors HATE Him!” ads have Paul Pimsleur’s face (who looks nothing like Asimov.)  The method seems legit and the Pimsleur companies (there’s also Little Pim, for children, developed by his daughter) don’t appear to be shady.  I can’t imagine why anyone would think claiming that teachers hate Isaac Asimov would be some kind of ringing endorsement.

    EDIT: I also can’t imagine why language professors would give a shit about someone enabling students to develop a basic command of a foreign language. By the time you’re studying under a professor you’re fluent.

    1. it’s pandering to american spite and anti-intellectualism. i mean, why bother doing something unless you’re getting one over on someone else, preferably a tweed-wearing latte-sipping elitist?

        1. you don’t get it. they’ve already gotten as much of the legitimate market as they were going to, but of course companies need to keep growing because, you know, capitalism. hence, sleazy spam which plays on insecurities.

          here is the formula: (sales gained through sleazy marketing) – (sales lost in protest against sleazy marketing) > 0

          i am pimsleur’s complete lack of surprise.

        2. In my experience, right-wing intellectual, home-schooly types are pretty anti-intellectual, but they’re still into learning, but just the basics. And autodidacticism really appeals to people with ideologies that value individualism and suspect collectivism and expertise. So, yeah, seeing a connection between anti-intellectualism and Pimsleur “courses” makes sense, especially when you consider that they and the Rosetta Stone stuff are marketed as an end run around those colleges that really just want to waste your time and pick your pocket. “Trust us. Learning a foreign language is easy. And it’s cheap! Buy our tapes!” 

          I do have an ax to grind, I’ll confess. Rosetta Stone German seemed to consisted of 98% clicking a picture of a horse and hearing “das Pferd. das Pferd.”

    2. It seems to be modeled on other dodgy ads like the “cosmetic surgeons hate this american housewife because of her one strange tip that makes her look 40 years younger” (or somesuch, I haven’t seen one in a while).

      1. Or every headline on HuffPo. “You won’t believe what…!” ” Did ….. really…..???” “Why ….’s neighbors all…”

    3. Pimsleur is part of Simon & Schuster. Not a shady organization.

      This ad, however…

      If you click on the ad, first, you go to:

      It’s one of those sites that uses geolocation to claim that their “news” item happened where they think you are. Either that or there’s a lot more going on in Darien, Illinois than I thought! (Not where I live, by the way. They’re off by a town.)

      That in turn ultimately sends you to

      which states in its footer that

      Internet Order, LLC sells Pimsleur products but is not an affiliate of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (the publisher of Pimsleur® products) or of Beverly Pimsleur (the owner of the Pimsleur® trademark, which is licensed exclusively to Simon & Schuster). Any use of the Pimsleur® name or associated marks is solely to identify the products sold by Internet Order, LLC.

      So the ads aren’t being done by Pimsleur. They’re being done by some sleazy marketer/salesperson who sells Pimsleur.

      The mistake they made was angering the geeks by taking one of our saints’ images in vain.

      1. Good sleuthin’. Pimsleur ought to maybe revisit their reseller agreements. Hell, they could even go for damages based on the hit to their reputation.

        1. As long as the checks clear, I doubt they give a flying fig how their stuff is sold.  Few companies care these days just as long as it makes money.

  3. I paid for the Rosetta Stone courses and found them to be incomprehensible and a waste of time…I then paid for the Pimsleur coursework and found it very well structured and an excellent learning tool. I think it’s cheaper too. I have no idea why Asimov’s head would be associated with language courses, but the fact he died in 1992 might cause me to question how valid the Tweet is anyway.  ;=)

  4. Some advertising psychologist must have decided that “one weird trick” is the way to sell stuff, because I see those words or similar all over the place.

    1. Of course it is. Consider: one weird trick vs. many hours of ordinary labor and expenditure. Who wants a snake oil that works in the same way that real things do?

      1. Like I said above, I don’t see any evidence that this is snake oil.  It focuses on spoken language and doesn’t go into reading or writing. Stands to reason that that might lead to some rudimentary functional ability relatively quickly.  None of us learned parts of speech, declensions, and conjugations before we learned to speak.

        1. It isn’t snake oil, nor is it “one weird trick”. I think what we’re seeing here is an SEO gone awry.

          1. That’s basically what I’m saying here. I’m not claiming anything about the product, I’m just saying it’s an ad generated by the same type of outfit that does all the skeezy ads.

        2. My comment was not about Pimsluer, which is why it didn’t mention Pimsluer.

          “One weird trick” is a tagline cooked up by snake oil salesman. That is all. They wouldn’t care whether Pimsluer is legit or not, they just happen to be selling it in this case. That’s the reason for the bullshitty “Teachers hate this man!” line, which I think was your question above.

      1. “Gosh darn it, I’m tired of those fantasy-writing bullies kicking sand in my face at SFWA meetings!”

  5. Gonna take a stab in the dark and just point out that Asimov IS a doctor. If someone just did some random googling and had no idea what he was a doctor of….

    As ocker3 already said … Dodgy companies gonna dodge.

    1. For all we know, teachers might hate Isaac Asimov. Especially if they’re home-schooling parents, or teach in certain rural areas.

      1. offtopic, but it’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the “home-schooling”=”idiot christian” thing because, among my friends, all but one case of home-schooling was because the public school system was an intellectual/academic pee-pee soaked heckhole, and even that one case, although done for religious reasons, still taught the standard science curriculum. (shrug)

        1. I object to the term “pee-pee soaked heckhole” when you could’ve said “urine-soaked hell hole”.  

          Apologies for quoting a summary from USA Today:

          According to a home-schooling survey in 2007 by the federal government’s National Center For Education Statistics — the most recent data available — a little more than 1.5 million children in the USA were being home-schooled. That represents an increase from 1.1 million students being home-schooled in spring 2003, according to the center.

          The 2007 survey showed 83.3% of home-schooling parents named “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction” as an important reason to home-school.

          Bearing in mind that this is self-report survey data about a “desire” rather than a primary motive.  I’m sure a demonic cavern soiled by micturition is equally loathsome to religious and non-religious parents alike.

          …with the possible exception of Madonna and her burning feet.

          1. eh, usa today is a reasonable periodical within their scope. their scope just happens to be almost nonexistently thin.

            i know about the statistics and i believe they are accurate. i just have trouble grokking them, i guess. it also abuts issues of agency. to some extent, i think parents have the right to screw up their kids by raising them religiously; even as an atheist, i don’t think it meets the standards for abuse. on the other hand, it really sucks for the kids. (shrug)

            “every time a demonic cavern is micturated upon in this fair city, i have to compensate the child?”

        2. I know some of those too. Especially my sister’s best friend, has 3 Asperger’s kids and the school system was woefully unequipped/clueless about what to do with them, so she did it all herself. Amazing.

          BUT, you try coming up with something for “teachers who hate Isaac Asimov.” That’s all I got.

        3. I’ve never understood the point of “heck”.  We all know what it mean. It means hell. I also don’t understand why that’s considered a “curse” word by some, even in 2013.

          1. it was a simpsons reference, where it was used facetiously to make more-or-less the point you’re making.

            Lawyer: Robert, if released, would you pose any threat to one Bart Simpson?
            Sideshow Bob: Bart Simpson? Ha! The spirited little scamp who twice foiled my evil schemes and sent me to this dank, urine-soaked hellhole?
            Officer: Uh, we object to the term “urine-soaked hellhole” when you could have said, “peepee-soaked heckhole”.
            Sideshow Bob: Cheerfully withdrawn.

          2. Thank you for the response  That makes much, MUCH more sense  and the hilarious part is that I RECOGNIZE that episode, now that you’ve written it out like that.  ROFL. My bad.

      1. Was that the Velikovsky connection above?  I’ve been trying to figure out if you were drawing a parallel between his ostracization from academia and Pimsleur or something.

        1. Yeah sorry it is a bit obscure. Immanuel Velikovsky had this impossible theory about cosmology and Isaac Asimov wrote a book about it.

          Asimov was famous for being able to churn out books on all sorts of topics and the Velikovsky book was a classic example. He clearly started each book with a solid high level structure and then filled in the gaps. He made a lot of good points against Velikovsky’s ideas but he came down heaviest in areas where Velikovsky had used arguments about chemistry and got them wrong.

          I suppose the connection I saw to this case was just that Asimov had attacked pseodo-science before. And its a shame he is not around to see this happen because I reckon he would have a book about the science of learning languages on the shelves within a month.

          1. Ah, I didn’t know about that Asimov book. At least he responded to IV’s theories instead of just freezing him out; that “broad authority” fallacy might just as well be leveled against the establishment mandarins who wouldn’t deign to point out his errors.

            Of course, you can’t spend all your time repeatedly disproving the same tired hypotheses — I’m thinking here of Creationist Whack-A-Mole — but I don’t know that Velikovsky’s ideas, nutty as they were, fall into the same category.  I could be wrong.

          2. I reckon he would have a popular and award-winning book about the science of learning languages on the shelves within a month.

  6. From what I know about Asimov, reading all his writings, watching interviews with him, etc.  I think he’d be kinda ticked-off.  He was a guy who took what he did seriously, and expected others to do the same (I do… he’s dead and I’m still kind-of scared of him).  So I hope whoever put that photo on their cheezy ad will take it down, out of respect.  

    HAHAHHAHAHAAAA!    Respect?  What’s that?

  7. I think this is getting overthought. Companies that sell banner ads are used by all sorts of online websites for revenue. A huge number of these banner ads combine a moving or “extreme” photo (often pulled of sources like facebook) and are not well known for worrying much about getting permission first. In this case, the fellow with the funny sideburns that was intended to catch your attention wound up being well known to some people. Most websites do not have complete control over what specific ads are put up by these companies.
    If this was a funny old guy with no teeth bouncing up and down I doubt anybody would have even noticed it!

    1. My thoughts exactly. This person is meant either be the doctor or one of the teachers referred to in the advert, it’s clearly (to me) not meant to be associated with Asimov. Probably the result of a Google Image search for someone looking suitably doctor / teacher-ish.

  8. I do appreciate these phrases that let you know it’s a complete fraud:
       ‘one weird tip’
       ‘doctors don’t want you to know’
       ‘one mother discovered’
       ‘scientists don’t want you to know’
       ‘* don’t want you to know’

    Any of these mean the author is sucking up to the reader’s cunning and distrust of science. You can’t cheat an honest man!

    1. They’ve been getting a bit more cunning in the past six months or so, too…
      The adverts used to say “local mom discovered”. Which means less to me here in the UK – “mom” isn’t a word we use, instead favouring “mum”. “Mom” is a pretty good indicator that the ad is for an American audience, so why click on it in the UK? It’s probably a waste of time…

      But a short while ago they began changing to “mum”. Intrigued, I tried a fresh browser and used a proxy to set my IP address to a US exit point, and sure enough the ads went back to “mom”.
      Switching back to a UK IP then got me a combination of both, as if they were trying A/B testing whilst they figured out where I truly was!

      Conclusion – the gits behind these annoying ads are doing geo-ip based customisation of word forms, and are much more cunning than we first give them credit for…

      (Oh, and whilst I don’t normally block ads, I have blocked the entire CDN that serves these ones, because some of their animations are just too annoying. Especially that “look 20 years younger” one that bounces around. I fully understand that ads pay for sites – which is why I don’t use adblockers normally – but these ads just crossed the line and had to go… I don’t miss ’em, and the internet is a more pleasant place for me now.)

      1. Not meaning to put a dampener on your research, but they’ve been doing this for years. Many websites do it too; geo-location is an important tool, both for targeting content, and making you feel more at home.

        It’s not all evil – but it would be missing a pretty obvious trick to not serve you vaguely localised content.

        Did you never get suspicious why there were so many housewives that wanted to date you in your exact area?

        1. Yeah, I know the geolocation’s been going on for ages – seeing my location in the string is normal for sleazy dating ads, as has been mentioned.
          I was just surprised to see them going the extra mile and doing translation for colloquial terms. That’s new, and a level of effort I hadn’t realised would be worthwhile…

          1. At a simple level they might just have an British and an American dictionary, rather than one English one, as they likely have many other languages too.

            But to be fair, if I were going to localise those ads, changing ‘mom’ to ‘mum’ would be the first thing I’d do. Nothing says this was made for an American like ‘mom’ :)

          2. UK news media, including the BBC, habitually quotes US rednecks from the trailer park in the middle of the bayou as saying things like, “Mum and I were feeling a bit peckish, so we were chuffed to bits when we heard that the pub had a fry-up that wasn’t too dear.”

      2. There’s also the ever funny geo-located dating site adds – especially if they’re also obviously google-translated to your local language.  “Meeting the regional Girl near your $bumfuck_nowhere and 50 more others!” is even better when you know there aren’t even that many people of the right gender and age living in the named area. :)

        I also just saw a few google play store apps that were obviously machine-translated – made much funnier by the errors: Make up got translated as “made out of”, and nails to the spiky iron meaning. “Girl tacks made-out-of”, indeed.

    2. Perhaps ironically, given the intended target audience of these ads, a more truthful line might be: 

      “One weird tip from science that you Mom doesn’t want you to know”

    3. The tipoff that it’s a complete fraud is that it’s not actually part of the content I’m reading. It’s an ad, I ignore it.

  9. I don’t have a specific reference to cite ATM, but isn’t Einstein image likeness used to hawk a whole bunch of various goods and similar theme sundries?

    1. I, a Nigerian Prince, have one weird trick to prove the equivalence principle of gravity.  I drop a free Iphone 5 and a cannon ball–oh forget it.  I feel like I’ve lost you.

  10. As no one else has pointed it out I will just note that Rowena Morrill might also have something to say about this. That image is from one of her portraits of His Eminence.

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