Tag Archives: copywriter

‘It’s all right, I’m not going to beat you up’

Lately I’ve been commuting to a station in Islington called Essex Road.  The trains that pass through it don’t go anywhere near Essex. They run from Moorgate in central London to places like Letchworth and Stevenage. It’s called Essex Road Station because it’s situated near Essex Road.

Essex Road doesn’t lead you anywhere closer to Essex, either. The whole Essex thing is a bit of red herring.

So that’s one thing you already know about Essex Road Station.

The other is that it is the only deep-level underground station in London that doesn’t see any Underground trains. The trains that stop here are all operated by First Capital Connect, part of the above-ground rail network. (Confusingly, Essex Road used to be part of the Underground, then in 1975 it suddenly went all high and mighty and switched to being overground.)

Anyway, it’s also one of those stations that’s served by lifts rather than escalators. Summon a lift and it effortlessly transports you down to platform level. Except that it doesn’t. It takes you beyond platform level. For reasons I cannot fathom, when you exit the lift you then have to take about 20 steps back up to where the trains are.

Flashback to 1904:

“OK boss, we’ve reached the platforms, can we stop digging now?”

“No, keep going!  Another twenty feet should do it.”

“But this is perfect, boss! We’re exactly in line with the trains.”

“I told you to keep digging, dammit!”

Under the heading ‘Disabled Access’, one website says of Essex Road Station: ‘Partial’. I suppose this means disabled people can ‘partially’ board a train or ‘very nearly’ leave the station.

I mentioned this to the man who didn’t beat me up.

We’d both been at street level awaiting one of the lifts. He with his tracksuit, his golden, jangly adornments and the various piercings about his person; me with the bag that I was suddenly aware contained my whole livelihood. He had the darting eye movements and the rapid, jittery body motions of someone who’s totally wired on something other than café cortado. The lift doors opened and we both walked in. After a moment the doors closed.

“Umeddmimmasmaffkintren,” he said. I pulled off my headphones.

“Sorry?”

“You made me miss my fucking train.” Oh, great. I was in a lift with someone using the past tense to describe something that couldn’t have happened even in the future.

“How did I manage that, then?”

“You held me up. Getting in the lift.”

This was bollocks, of course. “Going somewhere good, are you?” Change the subject. Get him talking about him.

“Yeah,” he said, without elaborating. Then: “I could have beaten you up. But it’s all right, I’m not going to do that.” The lift completed its descent and the doors opened. There was no one else about. He glanced at me as if he was about to reconsider.

“Weird about the stairs, isn’t it?” I said.

“Eh?” I talked about the madness of the lifts taking you to a point way below platform level. He said he’d never noticed that before.

It  has since occurred to me that imparting London trivia might be an effective way of disarming would-be attackers.

“Wait! We’re in the only ‘road’ in the City! Everything else is a lane, street, way or square!”

“Don’t hit me! See the Monument over there? Do you know more people have died falling from it than in the Great Fire it was built to commemorate?”

Or even

“Guys! Guys! We’re in the only Tube station that doesn’t contain any letters from the word ‘mackerel!”

Think I might be on to something?

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Things you don’t see in Canary Wharf: an A-Z

Abandoned shops
Ad agencies (but only if you’re reading this after 2015, when Ogilvy & Mather upped sticks and moved back to London)
Apple store. The Wharf’s a prime location, you’d have thought. But if an office worker around here wants to look at the alternative to a PC, he has to go to Waitrose (see ‘John Lewis’)
A parking ticket on this car. Ever

The Jaguar that never gets a ticket

Beggars
Big Issue vendors
Buskers who aren’t officially auditioned and licensed and whose repertoire doesn’t include songs by Coldplay
Charity shops, chuggers, children who aren’t on a school trip
Circus posters pushed through the letterboxes of abandoned shops (qv)
Civil engineering projects undertaken by any company whose name isn’t ‘Canary Wharf Contractors’.

Coincidentally, C also stands for ‘competitive tendering’

 Civil disobedience. At the time of Occupy London, Canary Wharf Management got jittery that something similar may occur on their patch. It was never likely, but the authorities took the precaution of cable-tying ‘Restrictions of Assembly’ rules to lamp-posts on all the approaches to Canary Wharf. The half-inch-thick document lists all the dos and don’ts – mainly don’ts – that visitors to Canary Wharf are subject to. I’d like to read it one day, but one of the don’ts is almost certainly ‘Don’t remove this document’. #catch22
Diversity
Dawdling people. Everyone’s in a hurry, all of the time. Not New York hurry, but a lot faster than New Malden hurry
Eccentrics
Etiquette, specifically as it pertains to holding doors open for other people. However, see ‘Unseemly free-for-all’
Extra Mints. I love these little fellers, despite a lifelong and completely inexplicable dislike of everything Wrigley. But no one here sells them. Update: Boots do.

Rarer than unobtanium

Feminists. I’ve no proof that they don’t exist in Canary Wharf, merely find the prospect unlikely
Flags. Can’t think of a single office that sports a gaily fluttering flag, nor a single reason why one should do so
Google Street View cars. They’re not allowed in. For security reasons. I can’t say more
Graffiti, greengrocers, greasy spoons
Happy and contented maintenance staff. I once saw a jacket hanging from the arm of this statue in West India Avenue. Its owner, a gardener, was toiling nearby. The scene looked quite amusing, so I asked the gardener if he minded me taking a photo.
He did. He told me that maintenance staff employed at the Wharf could be ‘let go’ for the most trivial reasons, and if someone from Canary Wharf Management were to see my photo on Instagram or wherever, he would most likely be tracked down and given his P45.
Ice cream vans
Independent shops
Jams, traffic
John Lewis. There’s a Waitrose that looks like a John Lewis and sells John Lewis-type merchandise, but it’s called Waitrose. Nobody knows why
Just passing through’. No one does this. Canary Wharf isn’t on the way to anywhere
Kebab shops
Knocking shops. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. Not that I’ve been looking. Or know what one looks like. If they look like office receptions I may have to revisit this entry
Learner drivers
Listed buildings
Litter
Long grass. Like long hair, it’s redolent of anarchy and will not be tolerated. There are little parks and gardens in Canary Wharf but they are enthusiastically maintained, with all the plants laid out in regimented rows and patterns
Marks & Spencer. OK, there is one that does a roaring trade in food. But one where you can buy some socks? Forget it
Men in suits. Joking!
Old people. Older than me people, definitely
Patience at pelican crossings. This particular phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canary Wharf but its effect is more pronounced here due to the lack of heavy traffic. What happens is that a pedestrian will hit the pelican crossing button before looking to see if any traffic’s coming or not. It’s generally not, so he’ll stride straight out into a deserted road. Then, when a car finally does show up, the lights will suddenly turn red for no reason. This makes me angry as a driver and a pedestrian. Even if I were a pelican I’d be furious
Pelicans
Petrol stations
Pigeons. Today I was wondering why you didn’t see that many pigeons in Canary Wharf when I came face to face with one of the reasons. Lemmy is a Harris Hawk who, his handler explained, is employed to persuade pigeons and gulls that they would lead more fruitful lives in other London boroughs. ‘But there aren’t many pigeons around here!’ I said. ‘I know,’ replied Lemmy’s boss. ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’

That’s Lemmy on the right

Police. Proper police. The ones at Canary Wharf may look like your regular plod, but in fact they’re a private force. You see them every hundred metres or so, standing around or walking along with varying degrees of purposefulness. They look well tooled up but they’re mostly packing torches, walkie-talkies and energy bars. Truth is, there’s not much for them to do around here and in any case they have very limited powers. Most of the crime at Canary Wharf occurs behind glass doors*, and it’s unlikely these uniformed plastics have the authority to barge in and say ‘Right, you’re all nicked!’ ‘What’s the charge, copper?’ ‘We’ll think of something, sunshine. How about complicity in acts of financial malpractice likely to engender global recession? And that’s just for starters!’
Poundland, Primark, public libraries, pubs with dartboards
Quitters. There’s no place in Canary Wharf for people who aren’t in it to win it. You snooze, you lose. It’s our way or the dual carriageway
Quizzes, pub
Ram-raiders. The office blocks around the wharf are protected by tank-proof obstructions, often disguised as flower boxes. With its all-pervasive air of paranoia, Canary Wharf is the Porton Down of the business world. Mind you, the IRA did plant a massive bomb here back in 1996, so the fear isn’t completely unfounded
Scruffy people. If you do happen to see a girl in ripped jeans, they’ll have been skilfully hand-ripped by a professional jean ripper
Skateboarders, although you do see the occasional spirit-crushing sight of a middle-aged office worker on a scooter
Tattoo parlours. Are you kidding?
To Let’ signs on empty offices. Sends out the wrong signal
Toy shops
Tripods, Photographers with. Hat tip to Rob Borgars for this observation. Basically, using a tripod is discouraged in the Wharf. The reasons? You could be a terrorist (no, I can’t see the connection either). You might cause someone to trip, resulting in legal action. Or you might be someone aiming to take a photograph for commercial gain. Tripod = professional, you see.
Undertakers
Urban foxes. I’ve never seen a squirrel here, either
Unseemly free-for-all to get on the Tube at the end of the day. Instead, Canary Wharfers (as nobody calls them) queue in an orderly fashion. It’s a sight to behold
Vandalism
WH Smith. Oddly, there isn’t a single branch of Britain’s favourite newsagent. Something called ‘News on the Wharf’ takes care of all the sweets ‘n’ papers stuff
Xylophones. No one I’ve spoken to has ever seen one in Canary Wharf. Nor have there been any sightings of marimbas, glockenspiels, vibraphones or thongophones. Things might be different if there was a music shop here
Yobbos. Yodellers. Yellow-crowned night herons. I’m struggling with Y
Zombies. None of the office grunts or ‘retail sales advisers’ are flesh-eating zombies. I’m pretty certain about this.

*Probably

Anything I’ve missed?  Do let me know. Also if the local M&S has started selling socks yet. (Update: they always have.)

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Progress. At a price.

I was round my mate Geoff’s house the other day. He likes his gadgets, does Geoff. Old gadgety Geoff.

His latest was a Sonos sound system. Working via your home’s wi-fi, it lets you play music from your iTunes library and also from sources outside your house, such as Spotify and LastFM. The sound was deep and loud and rich, and the remote control was insanely easy to use. (This part was critical. Geoff’s previous foray into this area involved a system so complex that finding a song – any song – would take him ages standing in front of a huge screen and jabbing buttons on a paperback-sized remote control. The impenetrable operating instructions effectively excluded the rest of his family from ever selecting their own music.)

When I can next justify it financially, I thought, I’m going to get one of these Sonos systems.

Then last week I started noticing their ad campaign. No easy matter, as the adverts are discrete and understated virtually to the point of invisibility. But they got me looking for a stockist in Basingstoke, where I was working at the time, so the campaign worked to that extent.

The instore demonstration was pretty compelling. The guy showed me how the remote worked, talked me through the various systems and explained how to get the best out of it. Although my iTunes library probably wouldn’t be up to the job, he cautioned. Why ever not? Well, apparently when you import CDs to iTunes, it rips them at a less than optimal setting. For purposes of speed, I guess. For the least compression and hence the best quality, I would have to import all my CDs again on the Apple Lossless setting. Hmm.

Another thing that perplexed me was the set-up of the speaker. I belong to a generation conditioned by everyone from hi-fi mags to the Melody Maker to position speakers six to eight feet apart. That was the way to replicate a live performance and the best way to enjoy any stereo effects created in the studio. Mono? Pah!

How to listen to music

But here was a £350 system with only the one speaker. A backward step, surely? Not so, said the people at Sonos when I’d mentioned this very point on Twitter. Each Sonos system in fact included two speakers, left and right. You couldn’t separate them – separates are so last century – so the way to enjoy stereo sound was simply to buy two systems! You turn the left-hand channel off on one and place it to the right, and do the opposite with the other and bingo, stereo sound. (“You want to take a passenger on your motorcycle? No problem – just buy another motorcycle!”)

I thought about the number of times I actually sat down in the precise way recommended by speaker manufacturers and hi-fi buffs and realised that I didn’t any more. Not much, anyway. So the lack of true stereo might not be such a big deal after all. OK, I thought, I’ll take it. Just one problem – that store didn’t have one in stock in my choice of colour. (There are two: Apple white and Apple black.) But their Camberley store did have one. I got them to reserve it and headed back to the office.

During the afternoon, doubt started to creep in. £350 is quite a lot to pay for something which would involve me doing days and days worth of ripping. The ‘sound in every room’ sales schtick wasn’t that convincing either when I realised I pretty much had that already. And there was that whole back to mono thing. But on the other hand, the sound was truly amazing and the idea of using that chunky little remote control to summon up music from pretty much anywhere was  difficult to resist. So I made a deal with myself. If I get work for next week, I’ll buy it. If not, I won’t.

I checked my emails. Yay! I had work for the following week. A couple of days, anyway. So that evening found me in the Camberley hi-fi store, punching my PIN into the terminal and looking lovingly at the box of music that was about to be mine. I checked with the salesman. “It’s got the manual in there, I take it?” Manuals are a waste of paper, he glumly told me. There’ll be a CD-Rom in the box. I nodded. I prefer manuals. This idea that a manufacturing process involving polycarbonates and aluminium and a reading process that required a £500 computer and a semiconductor laser was somehow better than printing a little booklet was unconvincing.

“And the remote and everything?”

He shook his head. “There’s no remote. The remote is optional.”

That sounded odd. How am I meant to operate it without the remote? He told me it was done via an app on my iPhone, iPad, Android phone or a desktop interface. All very well for me, as I’m never far from my iPad. But Mrs Bravenewmalden doesn’t have any of those things. Well, she’s got a PC but there was no way she, or anyone else for that matter, would be prepared to sit down in front of a computer just to skip ‘Octopus’s Garden’.

“How  much extra is the remote control?”

What the salesman said next brought to a sudden end my brief flirtation with Sonos. “£280.” My jaw made a rich, room-filling sound as it crashed to the floor. No, that wasn’t a mistake. The remote represented 45% of the total cost of the system.

“So, that’s two motorcycles.Thank you sir. Now I suppose you’ll be wanting some handlebars, yes?”

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Filed under Anecdotage, Modern life is rubbish, Stuff

A rubbish idea?

Driving down the M1 recently I saw the following message on one of those giant dot matrix signs:

BIN YOUR RUBBISH
OTHER PEOPLE DO

Having precious little else to do, I thought about that for a while. The wording of it. (Not, for once, the punctuation or clumsiness of the language.) Normally, an anti-littering message will be along the lines of PLEASE TAKE YOUR LITTER HOME WITH YOU or simply NO LITTERING. This particular sign appeared to be using basic psychology to persuade people not to chuck litter out of their windows. Perhaps it was an example of the nudge theory we’ve been hearing about.

Will it work, though? Would the thought that you’re in a shameful minority encourage you not to litter? On the one hand, we like to belong and to conform to certain behaviours. On the other, some of us are utter twats and will remain that way no matter what we read on road signs.

Blogger Pete Faint is strongly of the opinion that the signs won’t work. But I’m hoping they have a positive effect, because the motorway and A-road verges that I’ve looked at during traffic delays are in a terrible state. It’s not all the fault of drivers. Lots of ripped plastic sheeting seems to have ended up on roadsides from nearby farms. Crop farmers use huge quantities of the stuff to wrap their bales of hay or corn or whatever, and some of it gets blown away to festoon trees and hedgerows for miles around. But mostly it’s fast food packaging, magazines, sweet wrappers and drinks bottles, right up to bigger stuff like furniture and pallets. Plus puppies in sacks.

In any case, how would anyone know if it’s worked or not? We’d only know if they did a split test. Signs would go up along one motorway that’s just been cleared of all litter and along another one that hasn’t. After a year, you look at the results. Instinct tells me that the Highways Agency doesn’t think like that, though. I could be wrong. Incidentally, this guy had a novel approach.

The ‘litter creates jobs’ argument

I was coming home on the Tube with a colleague once when I noticed him drop his copy of Metro on the floor of the carriage. I pointed out that he’d dropped it, and he responded that it was OK, he’d finished reading it. I tried to convince him that he was littering, but his opinion was that dropping Metros was acceptable because “they have people at the end of the line who are paid to pick them up.” He must have thought I’d find this difficult to believe because he added  “I know because I’ve seen them.”

It almost sounded like he’d made some sort of point. Without all those Metros to pick up (along with all the paid-for newspapers that are now being left behind on public transport, since the coming of Metro has conferred legitimacy on the dropping of just about anything), the newspaper picker-uppers wouldn’t have a job to do. Well, not THAT job. But using that argument, it would surely be better from an employment perspective if we were all to commit more crimes (extra police and judiciary) and cause more collisions (extra jobs in manufacturing, insurance and auto repair).

The other point to bear in mind, and I think it’s a valid one, is that I hate Metro. Especially its laughable claim to be ‘apolitical’.

Anyway, what do you think? About the motorway signs? Think they might stand a chance? I’m itching to hear your opinion.

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You want hard-working advertising words. That’s why we’ve identified two more.

I say ‘we’, because I wasn’t alone in spotting this comparatively recent trend. The estimable Tom Albrighton over on ABC Copywriting did all the heavy lifting back in May. Quick on his feet, that Tom. All I’m bringing to the table is a few more examples.

I’m talking about the ubiquity of the two words ‘that’s why’ in advertising copy. As Tom says, it follows the formula:

At A, we know how important B is. That’s why we C, which gives you D.

Or: You know this? That’s why we have this

It’s cropping up everywhere. It’s like every copywriter in town has been on the same course. Which would be strange, because copywriters don’t go on courses.

Here’s a few examples I’ve half-heartedly collected over the past two weeks. There are loads more out there.

'Find healthy'? Let's not go there.

One ad. Three that's-whys.

Oh, so that's why!

This is a bit of a non-sequitur, in my opinion.

Basically, we wanted to increase profits and hurt the competition. That's why we were compelled to make our products look and sound desirable. Otherwise we'd have just thrown together the first thing our designers came up with.

It's Sidney again, still looking for healthy. Hang on, wasn't he 88 in the previous ad? Time flies when you get old. (That's why you should try and enjoy every day as if it were your last.)

Cheerio!

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Filed under Ill-informed advertising observations

Ads from 21 years ago

At precisely 9.44pm on a hot and humid July 30th 1990, Georgia Mills took her first lungfuls of air in a maternity suite at St George’s Hospital, south London. Over the course of that busy weekend I made frequent trips to and from the hospital, was on the phone virtually non-stop and generally performed lots of new-dad duties.

I also found time to do something a bit unusual. I taped the day’s news onto the VHS recorder and gathered up a selection of Saturday’s newspapers. Then I stuffed them all into a thick black plastic bag, the kind photographers keep light-sensitive paper in, stuck a label on it saying ‘Do not open until 31st July 2011’, and hauled it up into the loft.

Fast forward to last Saturday evening and I’m in the garden with Georgia, her mum and younger sister. It’s Georgia’s 21st birthday and we’re drinking champagne while she opens cards and presents. Eventually she gets to the black bag and we all have a chance to peruse the contents.

There’s a Guardian, a Daily Star, a Daily Telegraph, an Express, Mirror and Sun. There’s also the VHS cassette and – I’d forgotten about this touch – all the congratulatory cards we’d received from friends, relatives and neighbours.

Had Georgia been born a few hours later the papers would have been of greater historical significance as they would have been full of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which kicked off the first Gulf War. As it was, the two parties were still having talks in Saudi Arabia aimed as resolving their crisis. This news occupied one column inch in the broadsheets (my, were they broad).

The main news in most of the papers was the peaceful resolution of a siege in  London’s ‘Tokyo Joe’ nightclub, although the Guardian went for ‘Trinidad gripped by chaos’.

I’m interested in this sort of stuff from a historical perspective. I especially enjoy reading the adverts. They’re a window into a world that can be strangely reassuring and utterly alien. Here’s a small selection, together with the front page of the Telegraph.

As a radio news bulletin, the front page alone would occupy more than 20 minutes of airtime.

Retro's nothing new, you know. Here's a retro ad for a fax machine, which is pleasingly ironic.

A rare colour ad. For £5,995 you got a stereo radio/cassette and 'special 'jazz' graphics'.

After 21 years, this is still very recognisably an ad for First Direct.

Whatever happened to Metro? Or Rover? Or the team responsible for this confection?

All that speed! All that power! To think, today's socks have about as much computing power

Finally, an ad from 1990 that you could easily run today without changing much.

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Filed under Anecdotage, Ill-informed advertising observations

We provide our own emphasis

One of things I don’t like about the Daily Mail – apart from the misogyny, the homophobia, the jingoism and racial intolerance, the bile, spite and malevolence, the rejection of anything new or different, the small-mindedness, the crass populism and the utter, utter hypocrisy – is the underlinings.

They turn up in headlines like this:

‘So, who has got the fattest legs in showbiz?’

‘It’s official: immigrants do come from overseas’

‘How faceless Brussels Eurocrats plan to steal our children’s faces’

The sub-editors use these underlinings literally to underline the DM’s agenda. Each one says “You know those prejudices you’ve got? Well they’re well-founded. You’re not racist or irrational. Those dark thoughts and fears you harbour are in fact completely normal. Everything’s alright with your head. You’re amongst friends here. We’re like peas in a pod, you and I. And there’s nothing wrong with good old British peas, unlike swarthy, swan-eating foreign peas.”

Underlinings are ubiquitous in advertising copy, too, though their presence is driven by commercial rather than ideological reasons. “Can you just emphasise the price?” asks the client. “The price is a big selling point. And the phone number, can you put that in bold, along with the web address, and make sure they’re mentioned up front. And somehow draw attention to the ‘offer closes’ date. Oh, and underline the free set of steak knives. In fact, could you emphasise everything and makes sure it all gets mentioned first?”

Copywriters generally end up accommodating at least some of the clients’ wishes because, well, we like to eat. The result, though, is all too often deeply unattractive ads and, worse, a patronising shoutiness that doesn’t trust people to read the ad ‘properly’.

I challenge you to check out the current top 10 titles on the Amazon best-selling fiction list and find any examples of underlining, emboldening or italicising used as a means of emphasis. OK, the literature vs advert comparison is slightly disingenuous. Books want you to get involved; ads want you to get online, get on the phone or get down the shops.

Occasionally, I suppose, the way to get people to do that is to yell and hector them. After all, the market stallholder doesn’t outsell his rivals by adopting a Sergeant Wilson-style sales patter: “I say, would you mind awfully looking at the rather generous price of my splendid tomatoes? In your own time.”

But not all ads need to shout and nor do they have to tell you how to read the copy. If it’s expressed well, the voice in your head can detect the importance of a message or the uniqueness of a proposition. It knows when to invest copy with whimsy, breathlessness, charm or urgency. It can also tell when a word needs emphasis.

I was reminded of this the other day after reading that the Metropolitan Police were introducing a new ‘101’ number for non-emergency calls. Presumably this will replace the distinctly unmemorable number they launched a few years back with the same purpose in mind. But I kept the little door-drop because I liked the way it allowed people to provide their own emphasis:

Admit it: your inner voice put an inflection on ‘has’, didn’t it? Then you read it again and emphasised both ‘is and ‘has’. See? I rest my case.

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