Category Archives: Copywriter blog

My fellow Americans…

Over the last week I’ve been reading a book I received as a birthday present – a Penguin Civic Classics collection of great American political speeches. It’s full of stirring stuff, as you might imagine, but the one thing that strikes you straightaway is the complexity, the sophistication of the language and construction, compared with what passes as political discourse today.

Take this, from Patrick Henry’s famous Give me liberty or give me death! speech, delivered on 23 March 1775:

“If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight!”

I doubt you’d see such a gathering of subordinate clauses in any contemporary political oration. And if you thought that was a long sentence, how about this one, from  Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, on 4 March 4 1801:

“Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the hundredth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow citizens, resulting not from birth but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them including honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter; with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people?”

Compare, just for example, this chunk of Trump, taken from a speech delivered on 3 November 2016:

“The FBI is investigating how Hillary Clinton put the office of  Secretary of State up for sale in violation of federal law. The  investigation is described as QUOTE “a very high priority.” The investigation is far-reaching and has been going on for more than a year. It was reported that an “avalanche” of information is coming in.The FBI agents say their investigation is likely to yield an indictment.”

68 words; five sentences. Are we becoming (have we become?) a civilisation unable to cope with anything much beyond the simplest of declarative sentences? Or is it more to do with a cultural shift – a genuine democratisation, which means politicians must speak to all, not just their highly educated peers?

Whatever the reasons, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) seems to have become the de facto standard for communication in the internet age.

Ironic inefficiency

Went to see the consultant last week. Finally got to see him 20 minutes or so after the appointment time. He apologised for the delay, before launching into an extended – and detailed – account of the inefficiencies which surround him. “The level of incompetence is astonishing. I’m going to use what they call ‘my kit’ for your procedure, because we have no disposable ones. They have run out. No-one saw them running out and ordered new ones.

When they introduced disposables, they wanted to get rid of my kit, but I insisted on keeping it. Now everyone uses it all the time, because as often as not it’s the only one we have. Sheer incompetence…” And more of the same. Much more.

I did think it quite ironic that my five minute procedure ended up taking 20 minutes or so because of the amount of time spent telling me how incompetent and inefficient everything round here was…

Definately tricky

An entertaining recent thread on those words whose spelling trips you up – or at least gives you pause – every time kicked off with queue (‘all those u’s and e’s’), proceeding by way of the likes of

Liaise

questionnaire (‘one ‘n’ or two?)

definately (or is it ‘definitely’?)

and

permanent vs permenant

to ‘separate’ – which I have to confess I also spent years correcting from ‘seperate’.

Star of the thread, though, was an entry from someone who said she’d never been able to get a handle on ‘necessary’, until a tutor took her to one side and suggested that

“Nearly Every Clown Eats Special Sausages At Rehearsals, Y? Because it’s necessary”

Wiggly good marketing…

Yet another posting on my favourite cycling forum from someone bewailing the absence of a pack of Haribos from their Wiggle order. For those unacquainted, I should explain that Haribos…

haribo-prod

…are  little bags of sweets, available from any good cash ‘n carry for somewhere shy of 10p a pack.

One of the UK’s main players in the hotly-competitive world of online cycling retail – Wiggle – have long been in the habit of adding a pack, for no apparent reason, to the goods they send out. A stroke of genius, you might think: for under 10p, they significantly boost that positive vibe, and generate reams of social media good coverage. But no. That’s just smart marketing. The genius is that sometimes they send a pack without any Haribo in.

No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever been able to establish whether this is policy, an oversight, Wayne getting lost on his way back from from the cash ‘n carry, or what, but either way the upshot is the same: another post to the forum, setting off another little thread that puts the name ‘Wiggle’ back in front of the eyes of Wiggle’s core target audience for a few more days.

I just did a search on Haribo, which turned up almost a thousand posts, going back to 2011.

A little imagination (and a little bag of sweeties) can go a long, long way.

Simples

A client sent me an interesting quote t’other day:

“So, yes, Apple’s product lines have become more complicated. But really, are they that complicated? The company’s entire selection of products can easily fit on an average-size table. When a company cares about simplicity, it offers the right choices – not endless choices.”

At first glance, you think ‘Interesting…good point, well made.’ Then you interrogate it a bit further and you think, well actually, the kitchen table thing has more to do with size than complexity. The Morgan car company has only ever made one product – how simple is that? But you couldn’t get it on a kitchen table. Not unless you had, like, a rilly rilly strong kitchen table. Intel’s entire product line could probably fit in a cigarette packet, if not a match box. But no-one’s touting simplicity as a core brand value for Intel. They just happen to make small things.

But then, there’s that initial impression. Let’s face it, how many people ‘interrogate’ statements? Fact is, first impressions count, vivid images stick, and even individual words can be endowed with engaging attributes and associations such that they instantly evoke a specific company whenever encountered. The power of words, combined with that of images. Simples.