The must-win pitch

Those pesky leaflets.

That difficult third ad.

That absolute killer fourth ad.

The unexpected flood of work.

The need for a fresh pair of eyes.

The sudden absence of your best writer.

The party last night that probably explains it.

The part of the brief that nobody wants to do.

The direct response TV ad that you just want to get out the door.

The fifth attempt to get a campaign approved.

The realisation that the client needs a new tone of voice.

The dull series of CRM emails that might actually generate most income for the client.

The radio ads that no one seems able to crack as who listens to radio anyway.

The salesman’s leave behind and someone who know WTF one of those is.

The need for a back-up idea ‘just in case’.
Whatever the reason, if you need a seasoned copywriter to help out for anything from a morning to a couple of weeks, give me a call. I’m on 078 87 87 58 59.

That’s 078 87 87 58 59.

See? Told you I did radio.

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Spam spam spam spam competition competition competition competition

Every week or so I open my spam folder and marvel at the illiterate, preposterous and often quite mystifying attempts to separate me from my money.

Here are just a few from today, selected more or less at random:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 15.09.06

I come from a background of direct mail so I know a bit about how a marketing campaign needs only a tiny hit rate to pay for the entire enterprise.

But in direct mail, lots of skill and and money went into trying to make sure wastage was kept to a minimum. In contrast, the stuff that ends up in my spam folder seems to suggest precisely zero effort was expended on targeting, and somehow even less on messaging.

So it got me wondering what the sender’s name and subject line of a successful spam email might look like.

Have a go in the comments section. It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling. You could choose one of the above or anything from your own spam folder. The aim is solely to use your powers of persuasion and familiarity with the English language to get the reader to think that it’s a bona-fide email and click on the link. (Don’t actually include a link, we’ll have to pretend that one is there.)

Winners will be notified by email. (‘Yes, [name]! YOU have WON the spam competishun!!!!‘) Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll just come back to this post a few weeks from now and choose one. Assuming there’s more than one to choose from.

Anyway, off you go. Your time starts NOW.

 

 

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A joke for St Patrick’s Day

Two Jewish guys are walking along 5th Avenue in New York. As they pass St Patrick’s Cathedral, one of them spots a sign on the steps outside.

‘Come on in! Convert to Catholicism and get $500!’ it reads.

‘Would you look at that,’ says Abby.

‘I know!’ says Dan. ‘Guys must be desperate.’

Weeks later the two meet up again.

‘Hey, Dan,’ says Abby. ‘Remember that sign outside St Patrick’s?’

‘Sure, I remember. What of it?’

‘After I left you, I went back and took a look inside.’

‘You did?’ says Dan. ‘What happened?’

‘Well, I got talking with the priest and decided to convert. I’m now a Catholic,’ says Abby.

‘Wow,’ says Dan. ‘Did you get the $500?’

Abby says ‘Jeez, you people are all the same!’

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David Bowie – the music never played second fiddle

It’s almost two weeks since the death of David Bowie and, if I wanted to, I could still quite easily well up. His songs touched my heart, my head and frequently – if embarrassingly – my legs. When I tried to dance to them, I mean.

Coincidentally, he was also the only artist I could confidently pull off at karaoke parties. He never mentioned this to anyone, of course.

He was by far my favourite musician. Those who know my near-obsession with Frank Zappa will question this. Whatever. They’re different, is all I can say. They’re both my favourites, and they’re both my favourites by a long way. Go figure.

One similarity, though, and an aspect of Bowie that no appreciation of him that I’ve read has mentioned, is that, like Zappa, Bowie really loved music.

No shit, Sherlock? Well, maybe. But for me the appeal of Bowie’s music is just as great when he’s not singing as when he is.

Like Zappa, he gave his musicians room to create, to let rip or to exploit a melody’s potential. He forced them into musical places they wouldn’t normally have considered. He experimented with unusual sounds and non-standard instruments. And he frequently explored music that required a modicum of patience and concentration before it bestowed its rewards.

I’m thinking of how long it’ll take to find examples of all this in his 27-strong album catalogue, when I realise that I could probably find them all in just one. Maybe even in the album I happen to be listening to right now, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Let’s have a go, shall we?

The opening vocals of the opening track, It’s No Game (Pt 1), aren’t sung by Bowie. They’re not even sung in English. When he does start singing, it sounds more like a painful attempt to bring up his own spleen. Robert Fripp’s guitar is appropriately angry and discordant. It ends with Bowie actually bawling at Fripp to ‘Shut up!’ Can you imagine a Coldplay album starting like this?

Track 2, Up The Hill Backwardsstarts in what sounds to me like 7/4 time, again with Fripp on guitar, before settling down into a stomping 4/4 arrangement. Bowie’s knocked-back, almost chanted vocals share the stage with at least two other singers. At about 2:10 the listener is hauled back into 7/4 time for Fripp to return with more of his crashing guitar work. But this isn’t the middle eight. It just signals the end of the vocals. For the rest of the song we’re treated to a minute-long guitar workout, accompanied by Dennis Davis’ thunderous drumming. The singer whose album we’ve bought isn’t singing, but we’re still listening. Do you ever get this sort of thing on an Adele album?

The album’s title track is more like a straightforward rock song, but that’s straightforward in a Bowie way. There are weird clangings, staccato electronic dog barks in a descending scale, Fripp’s snarling guitar and, again, an extended section at the end of the song (some 30% of its duration) in which the only vocals are an anthemic la-la-la-ing. The whole thing sounds very much like…no one.

But, oh dear. The rest of the tracks unfortunately do little to lend weight to my thesis. Bugger. Perhaps this whole exercise has been a mistake. Maybe I should have chosen Low. However, Ashes to Ashes does include a glorious vocal technique that I can’t imagine any other artist even thinking of doing. From 2:44, Bowie repeats his own lines in a flat monotone, like a bored church congregation responding to the vicar. It’s a world away from the girly chorus you’d expect. Best of all, this structure compels Bowie to sing the last line, a rock ‘n’ roll exclamation, in a similar style. So at 2:57 we hear his lifeless response ‘Woe-oo-woe’. Did Elton John ever try anything so audacious? Jackson? Madonna? Presley? The album throws up other examples of Bowie’s vocals being anything but run of the mill. Check out the slowed down/speeded up split vocals from 2:39 in Scream Like a Babyfor example.

Better still, take Scary Monsters off your Spotify Music Centre and play Aladdin Sane instead. The title track. That piano solo. If you want audacious, this takes the biscuit. Dissonant, seemingly random yet coherent and, to me, utterly majestic. How did it happen? Here’s the pianist, Mike Garson, talking about the day it was recorded back in January 1973.  “I played a blues solo and David said: ‘No, that’s not what I’m looking for.’ Then I played a little Latin solo. ‘No, that’s not what I’m looking for. ’ Then he said to me: ‘You told me about playing on the avant-garde scene in New York. Why don’t you try something like that?’ I said: ‘Are you serious?’ He said: ‘Absolutely.’ That whole solo was one shot, one take – boom, that was it. But it came about because he got it out of me.”

And here’s Bowie himself, talking to Angus MacKinnon in a 1980 edition of NME“To digress completely for a moment – I still adopt the view that music itself carries its own message, instrumentally I mean. Lyrics are not needed because music does have an implicit message of its own; it makes its case very pointedly. If that were not the case, then classical music would not have succeeded to the extent that it did in implying and carrying some definite point of view, some attitude which presumably can’t be expressed with words…

… the lyrics taken on their own are nothing without the secondary sub-text of what the musical arrangement has to say, which is so important in a piece of popular music. It makes me very angry … when people concentrate only on the lyrics because that’s to imply there is no message stated in the music itself, which wipes out hundreds of years of classical music. Ridiculous.”

So, yes. Bowie was clowns and make-up and androgyny and all that reinventing himself malarkey. But he was also a staggeringly creative musician with a Gestalt vision of what a song should be – music and lyrics coming together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This must be my longest post ever. Thanks for reading if you kept with it. Thanks anyway, even if you didn’t.

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My 2015 Facebook Year In Review

28 Snarky Comments
34 Jokes That Unaccountably Fell Flat
7 Jokes via Timehop That Unaccountably Fell Flat Second Time Around
30 Moans About Things In General
11 Weird Comments That No Doubt Made Sense At The Time, To Someone
23 Invocations To Visit This Or That Blog, Especially That One About My Bloody Holiday
78 Links To Funny Things That Everyone Else Linked To The Week Before
4 Thinly-Veiled Cries For Help And/Or Approval
17 Bravely-Resisted Opportunities to Post A Withering Putdown To Someone’s Racist Comment
1 Failed Attempt At Above
3 Invitations To Sign A Petition, Because Petitions Always Work
1 Photo In Black & White Showing Charming Interplay Between Light and Shadow
1,348 Photos Of Me With A Drink
3 Updates Designed To Suggest My Job Is Occasionally Interesting
42 Occasions Of Banging On About Heartless Tories Etc

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The pub where ‘gastro’ leaves a nasty taste

Source: The pub where ‘gastro’ leaves a nasty taste

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The pub where ‘gastro’ leaves a nasty taste

The local boozer is having a refurb! This is good news. Like many pubs, the Royal Oak has been hit by falling trade and has also suffered a number of ‘incidents’ prompting visits from the local plod. Permanent closure and conversion into flats could have been the alternative, so any kind of determination to keep it open is a good sign.

Speaking of signs, there’s one on the wall announcing that the Royal Oak was an Evening Standard Pub of the Year back in the late ’70s. That probably meant you got an assortment of affable pipe-smoking gents who used the word ‘marvellous’ a lot.

‘Affable’ too, probably.

I hope the refurbishment plans allow for the retention of that dying institution, the separate public and saloon bars. Mind you, the distinction between the two was getting a bit blurred at the Royal Oak. The former used to show football on Sky and could get noisy, especially when Chelsea were playing. The saloon bar used to be somewhere you could escape football on Sky. Then the management adopted the retirement home model of reckoning that people needed to have TV on at all times, wherever they were. So they put up TVs in the saloon bar, and tuned them all to show football on Sky.

The pub served a range of traditional hearty pub fayre. You know the sort of thing. Burgers, steaks, pies and so on. All pretty good value and, thanks to weapons-grade microwaves, delivered to your table virtually before you’d finished placing your order.

But whatever else is changing, it looks like the food side of things will stay the same:

See that?

GASTRO PUB, NOT US!

Dubious grammar aside, I was struck by what these four words say about how the ‘gastro pub’ is perceived. Well, badly, obviously. Perhaps with a deep sense of distrust and suspicion. ‘We’ll be having none of your fancy London ways around here’ is the subtext. Or maybe it’s a veiled reference to the refurb carried out some years ago at another nearby pub, The Railway.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about drinking in pubs, it is to avoid any whose name contains the words ‘railway’, ‘station’ or ‘travellers’. Sure enough, The Railway was a seriously dodgy venue. After one disturbance too many, they shut the place down and reopened it months later with a new name, new decor, new prices and a new menu:

Does this shout ‘gastro pub’ to you? It doesn’t to me. But maybe the drinkers at the Royal Oak got terrified that their pub would reopen selling, not burgers, but black cod fillet in a Japanese tamari and manuka honey reduction, served with locally harvested micro greens.

Fair enough, but why so virulent in the denial? Why mention it at all? Is gastro food, whatever that might be, really such a terrible, terrible thing that you have to highlight the fact that customers needn’t entertain the slenderest fear of encountering any?

It’s like trying to reassure customers with signs saying things like:

SALMONELLA & BOTULISM? NOT HERE!
FILTHY CARPETS & STINKING BOGS? I DON’T THINK SO!
RISK OF UNPROVOKED GLASSING? NOT REALLY OUR STYLE!

To me, the sign is stating in a passive-aggressive way that the pub will under no circumstances serve the kind of food many people enjoy. They may as well have a sign reading:

CHEERFUL AMBIENCE? NOT US!
LOG FIRE IN WINTER? GET OUT OF HERE!
or
GOOD RANGE OF ALES? WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON?!

I’ll give it a try when it reopens, though. Of course I will. It’s the local.

UPDATE 1: I visited The Royal Oak shortly after it reopened. Verdict: They’ve kept the good stuff (antique mirrors, unusual tiny wooden doorway through which one has to stoop to get from the public to the saloon bar, good range of beers, general layout,) and got rid of some the bad stuff (old fashioned furniture, heavily stained swirly carpet). All the TVs are still there, and they’re all showing football. There were plenty of unoccupied tables and chairs. But dim lighting made it impossible to read the paper, which has always been one of life’s pleasures, and a pair of children were allowed to run around and yell at the tops of their voices. THAT I could just about have coped with, but the constantly barking dog in the adjacent bar proved too much. Plus, the owner attempted to stop his dog barking by shouting at it. So I drained my pint and left.

UPDATE 2: Maybe I was unlucky, so I give the pub another try. This time I takeBounder (my cocker spaniel) and a backlit iPad. The place is just as empty as before. But the barman takes one look at Bounder and says that dogs are no longer allowed, except in the public bar. From there I can hear the barking dog above the sound of two teams battling it out on Sky 3 Plus Football Euro Extra, so I leave and strike the Royal Oak off of my list of locals. Shame.

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