Author Archives: Alan Paterson

Comms and the man

Three big comms lessons to take away from last Thursday:

  1. Traditional media seems defunct, over here at least. The big poster campaigns of yesteryear are history. Even party political broadcasts no longer seem to play much of a part. ‘Broadcast’, per se, looks obsolete. Today’s action is online, and tightly-targeted.
  2. Strong, simple messages can still engage. “That’s what I’ve always said…”
  3. But beware hostages to fortune. For the many, not the few is immune from ‘news’; Strong but stable may sound potent, but it’s terribly vulnerable to ‘events, dear boy, events’.

When you say ‘focused’…

Ok, according to Wiki:

So, you’re focused on the elderly, give or take. You have an important message to communicate to your audience, and an entire web page to host it. What makes you decide that running it in a single line of 4-point type across the top of an empty screen is a good idea?

 

A writer should never not use no double negatives

A recent article reporting a restaurant’s threat to sue someone for a poor TripAdvisor review set me grumping:

Why would customers who have not been unimpressed – ie, who have been impressed – be threatened by lawyers? A GCSE student would be taken to task for tripping themselves up with their own double negatives. And this is a professional journalist with his own byline on a major national paper.

It did set me thinking though. I remember being taught that a double negative was inherently and invariably an error. The two negatives ‘cancel each other’; they are therefore redundant, and should be removed.

But how about…

The performer has turned up, the crowd are baying for fun, but she doesn’t feel too hot. Shivering sweats, dicky tummy, achy joints: doesn’t really want to go on at all. But these people have come a long way, paid their money: she has responsibilities to her fans. She can’t not go on.

Does this mean the same as ‘She can go on’? Clearly not. The double negative expresses something quite different: something more akin to ‘she must go on.’

I suspect the unyielding prohibition on double negatives shares its roots with the equally wrong-headed insistence on avoiding splitting infinitives: a grounding in Latin, and the attempt to force English into its hard, logical, almost algebraic straitjacket. As misguided as it is snobby. We are not Ancient Romans, and our language doesn’t work quite the same way.

Mind you, doesn’t not mean a Daily Mirror journo shouldn’t not be able to cope with the rules it doesn’t not have though. Do it?

I guess that’s how you spell ‘Labour’

They used to say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so long as they spell your name correctly. Maybe that’s true. Maybe Labour’s comms people are rubbing their hands in glee at the widespread ridicule that’s greeted their ‘triple whammy’ poster.

I’m not so sure. I have to say, my first thought on my first glance was ‘What the….?’

I still remember the impact of the original:

I remember a Tory spokesperson responding to criticism that ‘double whammy’ was an American expression, little known in the UK. “On the contrary,” he said, “it’s easily grasped, and indeed people have started using it. You hear it in pubs. We’ve introduced a new phrase into the national language – what could be more telling than that?”

What indeed.

And of course nothing speaks more eloquently of the success of that poster than Labour’s ‘tribute’. And maybe, as I say, my disbelief simply betrays my pathetically prosaic approach to such arcane matters….maybe Labour people have a more sophisticated ‘meta-agenda’. They eagerly anticipated the hoo-hah. They haven’t actually paid for it to be put up anywhere, but people are talking about it, so that’s a win, right?

Again, I’m not so sure. I still suspect that if you want people to see you as a government-in-waiting, having them regard you as a laughing stock may not be such a great move, spelling notwithstanding

It’s all the more baffling when you consider that it’s presumably come from the same team that devised probably the single best piece of political messaging of this campaign thus far:

That’s almost up there with ‘Make America Great Again’. Clear, simple, punchy, and right on the money in capturing the party’s pitch, its USP, in a form accessible not just to its core supporters but to the people who matter: borderline voters in marginal constituencies.

So what made the people who came up with that decide that the ‘triple whammy’ was a good idea? Baffling. Almost as baffling as the support for that third glove. Tho’ fortunately Sun-reader ‘bukey’ can help us there:

Now there’s political satire. Or perhaps not.

Simple, clear, clever

Reading the other night, I suddenly became aware of the message poking out of the top of my book:

A bookmark, that had come with the book, advertising an offer from Naked Wines. I hadn’t really registered it when it arrived; just stuck it in the book. A good bookmark always comes in handy. It was only later that I registered the way the offer was always there, within my peripheral vision, thanks to the cunning way the thing had been designed.

£60
wine voucher

A very smart promotion, targeted toward a self-delimiting (book-buying) presumably smart & smart-appreciative (not to mention likely wine-buying) audience.

Salut, whoever came up with that one!

A law unto themselves

A recent project introduced me to this logo:

Interesting. I can’t decide whether I like it or not. (I’m sure this’ll have ’em on tenterhooks.)

You can see where it came from. They’re pretty much the inventors of ‘new law’, so it behoves them to be not just different but, well, different, if you see what I mean. And this does that, for sure.

  • It’s distinctive – aggressively (or perhaps playfully…but certainly consciously, deliberately, calculatedly) far from the norm for the sector
  • It’s clever – in the way it embodies the kind of subversion it’s selling, with its all-lower-case and inverted ‘i’
  • It achieves the eternally tricky ‘confident, but not arrogant’ balance, with its ‘law redefined’ strapline

Indeed…there’s a lot to like about it. And yet…I can’t altogether escape the feeling that it’s just a bit, I dunno, cute? Just smacks of being a little bit pleased with itself. Arguably forgivable, given their sector dominance. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they dropped it in the not-too-distant.

The Big Question of course being, what next?

 

Halcyon days…

Stumbled across a wonderful piece o’ prose from one ‘Silver Fox’ on a thread about ‘What we used to do back then…’:

Get up at 5am, drink the cream off the top of the milk bottle and leave the rest on the doorstep, meet friends, ride like the wind on my bluebell bent over taking a shortcut across the angry farmers field, head to the to the river, find warm sticky cola bottles in disintegrating paper bag in back pocket, divvy up sweets, try to cross river with jeans rolled up to knees, have a nap, wake up to see cow standing above head, grab bikes and peddle like mad home, grab a sarni, see peg bag in the kitchen, empty pegs at the back door and climb apple tree, fill peg bag with apples with sarni in gob, shimmy down tree, throw crusts over the fence, sneak out, head to local shop, get bag of cola bottles and a mini milk from kind lady who makes apple pies to sell in the shop, peddle back to the river slowly counting up cola bottles and laughing at lolly stick joke, see friends and stuff sweets in jeans for later, play bulldog until legs fall off, watch sun start to set, push cows over, when scary dark walk bikes home holding hands with best friend so we don’t get kidnapped by strangers.

I’ve read nothing more evocative from a professional.

The rules’ uncertainties

Deep in a proof-reading exercise I began to run into “Harris’ objections” and  “Travis’ contention” and the like, and set about adding esses: Harris’s objections, and so on.

Picked up on this, I said that as I understood it, failing to add an s was generally considered archaic, and rather frowned on these days. Googling for some kind of definitive authority to endorse what was in truth little more than a hunch, I came across an excellent article on the issue. Not only do serious authorities differ on the matter, The Chicago Manual of Style has actually changed its position: once in the Jesus’  camp, it now prefers Jesus’s. As I was accustomed to doing.

But I have now revised my own preference, in line with a proposal made by the author of the writing tips piece, one Maeve Maddox:

Having said which, it’s important not to forget that this remains just that – a preference. As so often with the wonder that is English, there *is* no definitive correct answer. As so often, yer pays yer money, and…