Marketing Means War!

Since the ‘Ministry of War’ rebranded as the ‘Ministry of Defence’ back in 1964, it seems the armed forces, and those who write about them, have become hooked on euphemism.

Take a look at today’s papers and you’ll see Admirals and Generals talking about Britain’s nuclear ‘deterrent’ (weapons); or ‘intervention’ (war) in the Middle East; or ‘air strikes’ (bombing) in Syria.

Fair enough I suppose, euphemism helps to soften what can otherwise be difficult and uncomfortable reading.

What really amuses me though, is how the paucity of militaristic language in the forces contrasts with its profusion in the marketing industry.

It seems marketing people are obsessed with all things soldierly.

Now I know what you’re thinking; perhaps we say ‘strategy’ and ‘targets’ too often, but surely that doesn’t mean we’re obsessed with military language?

Well, let’s start with the name of our esteemed trade magazine. The word ‘campaign’ comes from the Latin ‘campus’, which means ‘field’. It entered our lexicon from France in the 1640s, and literally meant ‘an army taking to the field’.

Now stop and think about it. How much more of our industry lingo has bellicose overtones?

We don’t introduce new products; we ‘launch’ them like missiles.
We aim to be ‘first movers’.
Our campaigns are ‘highly targeted’.
But they must still ‘battle’ for attention.
So we pioneer new ‘tactics’.
Or we aim for a ‘captive’ audience.
And we measure ‘hits’, ‘strike rates’ and ‘impact’.
If traditional channels are too costly – we drive ‘guerrilla’ strategies.
So we can ‘recruit’ customers.
And deploy our ‘sales force’.
Which can help us ‘outflank’ competitors.
And ‘steal a march’ on our rivals.

So how did this happen?

Samuel Johnson wrote “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.

Perhaps our military jargon is an expression of feelings of inadequacy. Maybe deep down we like to pretend we’re on the front lines fighting for freedom, rather than say, trying to grow sales of chocolate muffins in packs of four.

Or maybe we’re not culpable. Perhaps we’re simply using the language we’ve inherited from the explosion of consumerism in the 1950s. A time when boardrooms were stuffed purely with men, fresh from the war and national service.

In either case, I think when books like these were made required reading at business schools in the 1980s; we became stuck with warlike verbiage for at least another generation…

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Perhaps I shouldn’t be sneering. Marketing and advertising are often described as ‘zero sum games’ after all. For one business to succeed, another must fail. So maybe couching everything in militaristic terms is appropriate; there are jobs and livelihoods at stake.

We’re in a serious business, aren’t we?

 

Whats the point of the apostrophe?

apostrophe1

If you understood the title of this blog post (and hopefully you didnt have too much trouble), it raises a potentially earth-shattering question – whats the point of the apostrophe?

Is it an indispensible part of the English language, or something we can live without?

Id argue its the latter. 

Perplexing punctuation

Apostrophe usage is certainly a topic that stirs the passions (if you dont believe me, check out this beautiful website).

And as a copywriter, Id probably be expected to defend this controversial punctuation mark to the death.

But the truth is it doesnt bother me – or confuse me – when apostrophes are used incorrectly.

So I think its time to get rid of them.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Its pointless

How often does incorrect apostrophe usage lead to genuine misunderstandings? In reality, theyre usually unnecessary.

  • Its distracting

All the apostrophe seems to do is frustrate and annoy the people that know how it should be used, while confusing those who dont.

  • Its not suited to modern technology

Apostrophes are often difficult to find on smartphones. And, when combined with predictive text software, youve got a perfect storm of apostrophe chaos and confusion.

Exceptions to the rule

There are, of course, some cases where apostrophes are helpful.

The plural possessive (‘my friend’s friends’ vs ‘my friends’ friends’, for example) allows us to communicate subtle differences in the possessive case. And some contractions – like he’ll and we’re – could be confusing without apostrophetic intervention.

But the context of the sentence will almost always make the meaning clear.

So in conclusion, I think its time to say farewell to the apostrophe.

And I hope youve been persuaded by my meticulous and exhaustive apostrophe analysis.

But more importantly

You got to the end of the post and it all made sense?

Then I rest my case…

On jellyfish and women

Here at the Dept. of Words, we like to think we’re fully versed in the ways of the world and that we have the big issues nailed. It’s why I wasn’t planning on getting v. serious. Instead, I was going to write a short piece on the weird and wonderful names of jellyfish and talk generally about how poetic they were*. But then readers, I came across the following carbuncle. And, much like a Portuguese Man o’ war, I was furious. So with this week’s International Women’s Day in mind, please see Exhibit A, brought to you by the salubrious company ‘Guardian Drinks**.

jellyfish 1

What do you see? Ignore the gleaming urinals, soft lighting, the faux sandstone masquerading as class. Take a look at the well-chosen selection of beers resting in acrylic.

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That’s right, it’s a version of Audrey Hepburn offering to hold a man’s drink while he relieves himself. It’s ‘a simple solution’. The website asks us to ‘spare a thought for the men at the urinals.’ And, according to one review, ‘makes placing your drink’ like hanging up a designer coat.’ Sure, there are benefits, like keeping the venue cleaner or reducing broken glass, but why is it totally reasonable to have a cheap bit of plastic, which holds your drink while you go see a man about a dog, represented as feminine?

It’s just not worth our time. So, the real quick-fix and ‘simple solution’ to make us all feel better is to instead take a look at three brands that have used female empowerment to sell. ‘Femvertising’, as it’s known***, plays a big part in feminism’s latest wave. And while it’s definitely not a perfect thing, with its dodgy title and a tendency to cop out and rely on Emojis to talk about everyday women things, I can’t help but think it’s alright.

Let’s start early. Let’s start with Virginia Slims. These ads showed women sashaying around and puffing away with the line: ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’. Finally a cigarette that matched the delicacy of our lovely faerie hands. Finally something that made lung cancer a democracy. All that aside, this was 1968 and I don’t see any of the women in the ads handing men their cheap beer.

Next up, it’s Always. And like all things really, it started with a hashtag. #likeagirl turns a big diss into something heroic, giving girls confidence through puberty. Interestingly, they’ve also used Emojis in the latest development of this campaign and I bet Bodyform are well annoyed.

And finally, let’s look at this Jane St. ad, and watch it make Dove look silly. Let’s be clear, Jane St. is a fake agency. One of its goals is to explore how capitalism exploits girl power by pulling at their insecurities for money. Which, one could argue, all the aforementioned brands do.  Its tagline is ‘powering empowerment through the power of brands’ and has a laugh at us agencies trying to latch onto something real. In Jane St.’s case, it’s B.O, body hair and feet. They may be against us but they’re using other brands, and ultimately female issues, as a currency to get their own message across, a message that’s ultimately for women.

So, the next time you feel a bit down by all the work that gives advertising a bad name, remind yourself of some of the good that’s out there, and maybe think of a catchy hashtag (#heforshe, #thisgirlcan). And also, I urge all you men, and bold women, to go into a urinal near you and release those Audreys from their shackles (they have a no damage guarantee if you pull them off the wall so don’t worry).

And if that’s not possible, next time you see something channel your inner Portuguese Woman o’ war and get furious.

*Don’t ask.

**Nothing to do with the newspaper. I’m sure they’d pulp themselves in an act of martyrdom if they knew.

***Writer R did warn you about how much this industry likes to name things.

 

Is brand Donald indestructible?

Two doors down the corridor, they’re going nuts in the Department of Onomatopoeia. They’re getting big international briefs again. Thanks to the word “Drumpf”, onomatopoeia is back on the global stage. It’s the latest attempt to derail the Donald in the USA election campaign. ‘Making Donald Drumpf again’ (www.donaldjdrumpf.com) is the idea of US comic, John Oliver. He says: “the very name Trump is the cornerstone of his brand. If only there were a way to uncouple that magical word from the man he really is.”

Drumpf was the original Trump family name back in the day. But for his satirical opponents, it’s not just that Don has been dishonest in hiding his real name from America. No, it’s the very sound of “Drumpf”. It is, they say ”the sound produced when a morbidly obese pigeon flies into the window of a foreclosed Old Navy.” More like the sound of a raspberry blown at a politician who loves “ya boo sucks” rhetoric.

Careful with that uncoupling. Instead of raising the debate, it’s handing a kindergarten level insult to a man whose political speeches the Boston Globe measured as requiring a fourth grade comprehension. That is effectively aiming at an audience of three to four year olds. He’s only got to score a few political points on TV and he’ll be telling America how Don drumpfed Hillary in the debates or the polls are showing the democrats have been drumpfed.

USelectionspeakinglevels

CAUTION. ANTIFRAGILE. HANDLE WITH CARE

Trump is the embodiment of what economist and philosopher Nicholas Taleb Naseeem calls “antifragility”. It’s the ability to gain from seemingly harmful disorder, to be more than simply robust. In Trump’s case, the more stuff you throw at him, the greater the risk you run of making him stronger.

Three doors down the corridor, colleagues in the department of Tone of Voice have looked at UK attempts to uncouple other aspects of Trump. (It’s becoming a transatlantic obsession.) One in particular from linguistic expert, Peter Serafinovicz. In these clips, Don has been dubbed with an English accent while his words are left completely unchanged. It’s revealing in many ways. Yet worrying as well. Anglicised, Trump doesn’t sound quite as scary as the original version. Allegedly, when Trump’s agent saw this, he instantly started looking at the opportunity of DJT standing for election in the UK if he doesn’t make it in the states.


Pure and utter creativity

Shingy

What is ‘creativity’ exactly? A quick swipe through book titles on Amazon will tell you that it is an art, a form of entrepreneurship, a way of living, a problem solving technique, an internal force to be ‘unleashed’, something with rules, something without rules, something standing in the way of ‘true’ inspiration, a way of tackling stress, a leadership model – any old bollox, really.

Which might explain the results of a survey conducted by I.B.M.’s Institute for Business Values, which asked 1,500 big wigs what they valued in their employees. And what would your average investment bank, say, or energy company be on the lookout for? You guessed it. The new number-one priority is ‘creativity’.

Which is a problem for those of who work in the creative industries. How do we standout from the creative plumbers and HR managers of the world? The answer – obvs – is new job titles. It’s time to unleash your inner David Shing and become the ‘prophet’, ‘guru’ or ‘messiah’ you were born to be.

YOU WERE YOU ARE NOW
Junior Copywriter Verbiage Manufacturer
Senior Copywriter Meaning Mogul
Junior Digital Designer Pixel Pixie
Senior Digital Designer Pixel Dominatrix
Head of Art Eyestream Sage
Group Creative Head Ideation Grandmaster
Creative Director Actualisation Conductor