In Praise of Dialects


Glenarriff Forest Park, Northern Ireland

Before I went ‘over the water’ to find fame and fortune as a copywriter in London, my grandfather gave me some advice: ‘You should put lots of wee Irish phrases in your adverts.’

As diverse as our clients are, I’m not sure his favourites – cheugh as a wuddy and quare an’ thran –will come in all that useful, though I’ll be leaping on the first chance that I get to use them. Translation attempts on a postcard addressed to the Dept. of Words, please.

Chances to use dialects in national advertising are rare, and when they are used, they’re often reduced to punchlines, like in this advert for

The joke revolves around the incomprehensibility of the Geordie dialect. Which is, I suppose, the reason why you don’t hear more of it in adverts. Dialects are necessarily exclusive, so they leave some people out. And you don’t want to muddy your copy with words that people won’t understand.

But the other side of the exclusivity of dialects is that they bring people together. They’re a response to the intricacies and nuances of a social and geographical environment. Where ‘standard’ English fails, dialects swell to meet the challenge of getting things just right. In that respect, they have more in common with copywriting than it might initially seem.

So, even if national campaigns aren’t always the place for dialect, then it’s worth getting an ear into some places that are.

Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks contains glossaries of British and Irish dialectical words for landscapes, some of which are arrestingly lovely – to thaw in Northamptonshire is to ‘ungive’, and an icicle in Hampshire is a ‘clinkerbell’ or ‘daggler’.

I have a particular soft spot for Seamus Heaney, who was fully alive to the joy of regional Irish speech, and to its detractors.

I tried to write about the sycamores
And innovated a South Derry rhyme
With hushed and lulled full chimes for pushed and pulled.
Those hobnailed boots from beyond the mountain
Were walking, by God, all over the fine
Lawns of elocution.

The entire poem, brimming with what Heaney described as ‘the speech of Northern Ireland: rigged and jigged and rhymed for effect, the kind of flotsam and jetsam that blows in one ear and out the other in every childhood, but that finally ends up lodged between the ears of the adult’, can be found here.

Blogging on

Back in the day, the only way to hear directly from some of the best creatives around would have been to actually work in the same agency as them. Or better still, find out which pub they preferred to work from.

But even if you were talented and lucky enough to work alongside the greats, the chances are they’d have barely acknowledged you. The egos, like the budgets and pay packets, were considerably bigger back then.

They certainly wouldn’t have shared their thoughts, anxieties and insights with you on a daily basis. Except maybe in that pub, just before closing time.

But fast-forward to now and things are very different. While those creatives might still be as unforthcoming in the flesh, look online and it’s another story.

Today, ad blogs give you weirdly intimate access to all sorts of people with all sorts of different experiences and perspectives.

And because they’re usually by copywriters, the blogs tend to be very well written. Some of them are even funny.

Here are the ones I keep up with:

Stuff from the loft An anomaly on this list, I think: this is a blog written by an art director. The stories he digs out and the people he features are often amazingly good. He’s not at all prolific (maybe because he’s busy being the Head of Art at JWT), so it’s always a pleasure to click on the bookmark and discover a new post has appeared on the site.

Round Seventeen A grade-A grump who lives in LA and often pumps out two posts a day while doing the rounds as a busy freelancer. Definitely the funniest blogger on this list.

Dave Trott Having been a successful CD for ages and ages, he’s now become one of the most accomplished ad bloggers around. Often fascinating and pithy, the blog is written in that single-line highly digestible style. The stories are often so good, it’s one of the few ad blogs that would probably interest people outside the industry.

If this is a blog… An English creative who did well over here and then went over there to be a creative director at Apple’s in-house-agency-thingy. He was the CD behind the Shot on iPhone 6 campaign. The blog covers all sorts of subjects with an unusual degree of thoughtfulness, plus there’s always a Friday round-up of weird and wonderful links.

Ad Aged A self-confessed old guy from the old school, clearly less than enamoured with the way advertising has developed. But it’s not all whining and wailing about an industry past its sell by date. Just recently, he linked to some of the best things I’ve seen in a while. Firstly, this lovely film about the VW ads of old. And then, a link to the new VR app for the New York Times. Have a look for yourself – download the app to your smartphone and then watch the VR film about Fallujah. It really is a disconcertingly direct way to experience ‘the news’.

Ad Contrarian Probably the most celebrated and influential ad blogger out there. As the name suggests, he’s a spiky bugger who loves picking fights – and loves it even more when he’s proved right. The success of the blog has helped him build a new career as a conference speaker and consultant on some of his pet topics – like the idiocy of blowing every marketing budget on young people when it’s the older generation that’s sitting on all the lovely cash.

Ad Teachings Many of the above are jeremiads – complaints from older guys who’ve been there, done it, and have a pretty good take on why things aren’t what they used to be. But Ad Teachings is a different kettle of fish. It’s written by a woman for one thing. And rather than exploring all the ways we’re going to hell in a handcart, this blog simply posts good examples of ads around the world that students and young pros will find useful and instructive. Guess what? Not-so-young pros find it useful and instructive, too. And a bit heartening as well.

So them’s my top blogs. Any to add?