Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yoga: two extreme positions

In the book, I related a little anecdote about looking for a yoga class, to help me fight the increasing inflexibility of middle age, and coming across an ad in my local post office window, headed like this:


For me, I commented, this sounded perfect, since I've always been a bit suspicious of forms of physical exercise which oversell themselves on the basis of their supposed spiritual benefits.

Today, in a different shop window, I came across an ad for another yoga class, headed:


Now, I wouldn't go to that class unless you stunned me with a tyre iron, bound me hand and foot, and carried me there trussed under a pole. But, of course, that doesn't make the ad a worse piece of persuasive writing: just one aimed at a reader as different from me as it's possible to imagine.

And no, since you ask I haven't actually enrolled in the non-tree-hugging class yet. But I'm going to, soon. Honestly.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Oh y-s, oh y-s, oh y-s, y-s, y-s, Y-S!

Bizarre. An ad in today's Indy for a "feminine massager" guaranteed to bring women to "org--m" in 60 seconds.

What were they thinking, substituting those two litle dashes for the missing letters? Did they imagine that this would somehow make the ad less potentially offensive? And if so, to whom? Surely they didn't seriously believe that the kind of people who want electronic assistance to achieve sexual satisfaction in a minute flat would come over all Mary Whitehouse when confronted by the word orgasm?

C-me, c-me, that would be absurd.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Let's hear it for 300million . . .

As you'll have noticed if you are one of my three semi-regular readers, this blog is now far more beautiful than before. For that, I have to thank my brilliantly talented friends at 300million, London's most intelligent graphic design consultancy.

They have also created an elegantly simple website for the book itself, which I hope will persuade literally dozens of people to part with the very reasonable £6.59 that Amazon are asking for my life's work. If I knew how to add web links into posts like this, I would send you straight to www.canichangeyourmind.co.uk and then on to www.300million.com

Sadly, I don't. But maybe by the next time you drop in here, some kind web-literate person will have explained it to me.

Thanks again, Dom, Nick, Martin and the rest of the 300million gang.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An early contender for Most Hateful Use of Words, 2007.

Not long ago, I gave Barclays a sharpish jab in the solar plexus for labelling their cash machines "holes in the wall". But this time, they've really gone too far.

They'd like us to pop into one of their branches and open a current account or take out a personal loan. But instead of giving us any reasons why we should, they have decided to win us over with "humour".

One problem, though: it isn't even remotely funny. And if they're hoping we may groan indulgently at the rubbish "joke", and perhaps even give them a bit of credit for not taking themselves too seriously - well, forget it. Banks rarely treat their customers with any noticeable indulgence, so why should they expect any favours from us?

Just face up to it, Barclays and other banks: trying to sound all warm and cuddly and human is never going to work for you. At least, not until you start showing some faint signs warmth, cuddliness and humanity in the way you behave. For some reason, the words "hell", "over" and "freezes" spring to mind.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My friend Phil on "Leadership"

One of the good things about blogging, I'm belatedly coming to realise, is that, instead of writing it all yourself, you can get other people to do the hard work for you. So today, I'm handing over to my friend Phil, who's been going to job interviews lately, and hasn't been over-impressed by the way potential employers use the English language . . .

“Leadership” seems to be particularly important to employers who want to give you responsibility but no power. “You’ll be the unboss of business architecture. You’ll be accountable for other people's mess. You can use your charisma to influence them. However, you have no control over the objectives that their bosses set for them. Let’s face it: they’re going to look after their bonuses, first.”

Nicely nailed, Phil. I wonder if you'd like to have a crack at "Empowerment" for us, next?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Straplines. Saying nothing much to no one in particular . . . fast!

I had a 10am meeting in London the other day. I didn't want to be late, so I caught the 7am train - due in to Paddington at 8.40. Just outside Reading, it stopped and didn't move for half an hour. Then it trickled forwards half a mile or so, and stopped again for 20 minutes. No announcements were made, and no member of the on-board team showed his or her face. Eventually, we limped into Paddington at about 10.20, a symmetrical 100 minutes late.

So I had plenty of time to ponder the rail company's corporate strapline:

ABC Trains. Transforming Travel.

Gobsmacking, really. What were they on what they came up with that? How, conceivably, did a highly paid team of communications professionals convince themselves that such a ludicrously overblown claim could - in the context of a rail company desperately struggling to bring its services up to a barely acceptable standard - be anything other than an insult to their poor frustrated and furious passengers?

Transforming travel? For me, that morning, they would have been pushing their luck if their strapline had read: “Trying Very Hard to be Slightly Less Crap”.

Of course, not every strapline is as breathtakingly ill considered as "Transforming Travel". But the vast majority are pretty dreadful, and there’s a simple reason why. Straplines, by their nature, are unable to observe the two most important principles of good persuasive writing: know who your reader is; and what result you are trying to achieve.

Designed to be plastered everywhere - on ads, sales literature, staff induction manuals, promotional coffee mugs - a strapline addresses the entire world. And what is the entire world supposed to think, feel or do after reading the strapline? Er, nothing specific, really. The only real job of a strapline, in the vast majority of cases, is to fill that little bit of space below the logo.

Straplines say what the company (or brand) wants to say about itself, not what the reader may be interested to know or willing to believe. They try to be all things to all readers, and inevitably, they fail.

But at least they’re only three or four words long.