NEVER ABUSE THE ENGLISH B*STARD

I’ve ghost-written for countless business leaders and other influential people, and I’ve trained a lot of young writers and communications professionals.  One thing I’ve learnt is that you can always be a better writer.  That’s especially achievable because the English language is such a contradictory, rule-breaking mongrel of uncertain parentage, that you can paint on its canvas in a lot of different ways.

Now when it comes to some of the essential elements of English grammar, it pays to be a pedant.  Personally, spelling errors and botched apostrophe’s (see what I did there?) would be punishable by death if I ruled the world etc. etc.  For a business (and by extension a professional person) to present themselves without regard to these essential conventions frankly makes them look stupid.

But whether you’re carefree about your commas, or pernickety about your parentheses, the people who I’ve got no time for whatsoever are the ultra-orthodox nut cases who wet their pants at the sight of a split-infinitive.

And misplaced modifiers?  Don’t talk to me about misplaced buggering modifiers…  OK, OK, so I accept that the syntax of a sentence could be more gracefully expressed in many of the instances where modifiers are misplaced, but come on… really?  The only two clients that ever presented this objection to my work were basically missing the point about what the article/press release/opinion piece was trying to achieve: COMMUNICATION.  Technically, they were right, but what the hell is that supposed to count for?

(Incidentally, if you want to know what a misplaced modifier is then feel free to Google it.  That’ll be 20 seconds of your life you’re never getting back, by the way…)

There is a wonderful line by Lynne Truss in her book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”.  Following a brief analysis of appropriate  scenarios for employing the comma, she offers her own rule to beat them all: “Don’t use commas like a stupid person.”  I regard that as seriously good advice.

Content creators are not the Waffen-SS of the English language.  Just remember what the content is for, and who it’s for.

 

 

ODE TO ALDI

I’ve worked in marketing for 15 years so I understand how brands work. It always fascinated me whenever you got a bunch of marketing people together in a room how quickly they’d start waving around their favourite examples of brands ‘getting it right’, and ‘showing how it’s done’.

I’ve often felt a bit of a fraud in these situations, because the elephant in the room of course is that ‘brands’ might just be complete bullshit. Don’t get me wrong; having a recognised and trusted brand is immensely valuable. What I’m saying is that if anyone is going to be completely immune to the brand ‘snake-oil’ and other sleights of hand that influence mere mortals into their buying decisions, then it really should be marketing people. Us lot should be buying stuff for every other reason than ‘brand’.

Alas no. Recently I listened patiently to a very learned marketer – who once ran his own successful practice and now advises others on how to do it – harp on about his predisposition toward Howies clothing. Being shockingly unfashionable, I hadn’t heard of them. I’m sure they are very good, and my subsequent glance at them online has told me all about their environmentally conscious approach to high quality apparel for the outdoorsy.

But I’ll be honest, it bothered me; the way he was talking, it seemed as though he liked them because of several back-story/vibe/feel/brand related reasons, and the quality of actual product was incidental. On this basis the entire room nodded sagely that ‘they had a great brand’.

Now this is how brands succeed of course, we all know that. I just felt a bit disappointed that he’d been blissfully duped, along with the non-marketing hordes, despite being extremely well equipped to cut through the bullshit and just buy a decent set of waterproofs at the right price.

This was going to be a blog about how much more astute I am than anyone else in my wariness of all things ‘brand’ – but it doesn’t turn out quite that way.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a tight-arse and this does mitigate against paying a premium for something with no tangible value.

But that’s not why I love Aldi. And I mean, I LOVE ALDI.

I love the way they don’t employ anyone to keep their car park tidy, because if they did then their grocery prices would be very marginally higher. I love the lack of abundance, so that they won’t have any fresh meat left by about 2pm on a Saturday because they already sold it all – not for environmental reasons you understand, just because waste equals cost. I love how they sell random cut-price stuff that you ‘might’ need – alongside essential groceries – rather than do what the other supermarkets do and sell you insurance and mobile phone contracts which are of course just someone else’s service but sold to you with a built-in profit margin. I love how they almost literally throw your shopping at you in order to get as few checkout operators as possible to process as much shopping as possible.

No, I don’t love Aldi because of the money. I think I really love them because of their brand.

Aldi’s advertising campaign: “Like brands, only cheaper” is so brilliant it takes my breath away. It speaks to a target audience of educated, affluent people who KNOW that they are being stiffed on a daily basis by ‘brands’ – and giving them an alternative. And what do they back this up with in their positioning? The Which? Supermarket of the Year (two years running) message. Brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

The last word goes to Waitrose and Asda, both of who are under pressure from the likes of Aldi, Nisa and Lidl. And how do these big boys all publicly refer to their nascent competition? As ‘discounters’… What a carefully chosen word that is. It infers that their competitors’ prices won’t always be so low.

Clever, but will it be clever enough?

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