How I got on first name terms with Jeremy Corbyn

When words fail you, perhaps you ought not write a blog for the Department of Words.

Or as the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, said: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should remain silent.”

Speechless as I am, I will press on.

What struck me speechless was an email I received from an organisation in which I have, at various times, placed some trust, if not hope.

When Jeremy Corbyn was campaigning to be leader of the Labour party (the first time round), I paid £3 to join as an affiliate and voted for him. After all, Things Can’t Get Any Worse, as the old D:ream Labour anthem went.

From the second I parted with my £3, I received a regular stream of emails from the party. They emailed me throughout the general election campaign. They continued emailing me on a variety of issues, invited me to soirées (tempting), sought my support on marches and emailed me at every opportunity to build on the interest I had shown. Fair enough. They were in Corbyn’s own words “harnessing the advances of new technology to organise political campaigning like we’ve never seen before.”

Then, when the biggest issue of 21st century British political history arose i.e. Brexit, they went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid. Here’s how they harnessed the advances of new technology to open their pitch…..

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 10.54.46Yes, there I was. In an age of targeted, data driven, digital communications, having my most fervent social and political views sought, being addressed as “Firstname” under the subject heading “What about you?”

Who me? Firstname? Yeah, we really want to know what you think, Firstname. Your views matter, Firstname. And then further down the email they suggested I, Firstname, donate another twenty quid to party funds.

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I only wish I had gone to those soirées. (“Prosecco, Firstname?”) Or the Christmas party at the home of my MP. (“Compliments of the season, Firstname, mince pie?”) Oh, the introductions (“Jeremy, Firstname. Firstname, Jeremy.”)

Sorry. Considering I said I was speechless, I am going on. But it is the basics of communication. Get the name right. Know your target audience as well as possible. Or you only make life harder for your message and your brand.

It reminds me of my 25 years as a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder. 25 seasons @ around £350 each plus merchandise and catering. All to watch false dawns rise and fade. Every year THFC greeted me with a letter that began Dear Sir or Madam Welcome to another season at White Hart Lane. After a quarter of a century of a customer relationship, you might think they would have tried a little harder. Try my name. Say my name, say my name. They might have got more than £8,750 out of me.

I won’t even speak whereof they continued to put David Ginola on the season ticket three years after he’d left for another team. I forgive Spurs. You expect farce and incompetence from football now and then. But not from people who would run the country.

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Let’s get the white table* in The White House

It’s a sign of the times when the most eloquent and elegant points of view in American politics this year have come from chocolate packaging. A new range of confectionery from Design Army of Washington DC and choclatiers, Hill McGraw has served the only sweet things in a bitter war of undignified words.

Choose your chocolate from 6 candidates called Red State, Tea Party, Left Wing, Filibuster, Flip-Flopper or Taxation without Representation.designarmy_political_b

Let’s hope some of this is on the white table in The White House to remind the next president to show some style.

*For those that don’t know, The White Table is a trending cultural phenomenon from the media and advertising world. It’s what The Water Cooler once was. It’s an unofficial forum. It’s a centre for conversation. Instead of watering yourself, you put a home baked cake on it or sweets you brought back from holiday or business. Then you share with colleagues in a civilised manner. Try it in your open plan or oval office.designarmy_political_e

Official New Entry In The Lexicon of Love.

I went to a party a few days ago. Two of my friends have these lavish gatherings every 6 to 12 months. Sometimes it’s celebrating a specific event. Sometimes it’s for the hell of it.

This time, as they revealed in a speech before dinner, it was for a specific and rather special event. After years of living together and then a civil partnership, they had got married.

When they turned up at the town hall at the arranged time, they told us, they were greeted with a strange bit of terminology. The official said to them: “Are you here for the conversion?”

It was his word for moving from civil partnership to marriage.  Was it one individual’s quirky vocab?  Seemingly not. I googled it and, sure enough, the official word is conversion.

Now, round my way, conversion is a word more associated with lofts than lovers. For others, it’s pounds to kilos or gas to electric. For followers of league and union, it’s what you try after a try. Or for those of religious persuasion, it’s Saint Paul seeing the Damascene light.

But for my friends, conversion had different connotations. As one of them explained: “We thought it was a last ditch attempt to switch us to heterosexuality.”

It’s great they saw the funny side and shared the joke. However, in the context of finally being able to marry the person you love in the way that most of society has done for centuries, is “conversion” the best the official committee could come up with? Isn’t there a more joyful, charming word than “conversion” that would encapsulate the state of love and marriage? Did the committee even try too hard?

That’s why, if you’re ever on the Official Committee for Naming, and you get stuck with a flat “conversion”, you could try one of two things: i) Send your naming conundrum to the Department of Words; or ii) Do what they did in the Town Planning Department of Leeds City Council. Don’t take it too seriously. (See their work below.)

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A Short History of The Too Big Idea

 

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Every now and then someone in advertising announces The Big Idea is dead. The most recent announcement was only two weeks ago. From Tracey de Groose, the UK CEO of Dentsu Aegis.

2016, eh? Bowie. Rickman. Wogan. Corbett. Victoria Wood. Prince and The Big Idea.

But in 2012, the Global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi had already announced that The Big Idea was dead. In fact, its demise has been proclaimed five times in the last six years.

So has it died more than once or is it taking its time? Is The Big Idea faking it?

More puzzlingly, why do these voices want it dead?

Is it that they think the industry oughtn’t be seen pursuing such a goal? What will clients think? How will we explain what it is? Or is it that lots of smaller ideas are easier to sell than one of The Big Idea?

Or is it a fear of where will this end? If there’s The Big Idea, might there then be The Bigger Idea? Then The Biggest Idea? Because if you don’t control creative people with a ball park limit of the right size of idea, you know what they’re like. They get overexcited and you get

THE TOO BIG IDEA

For instance…..The most memorable example of The Too Big Idea in UK advertising came in 1987. Instead of doing ads, an advertising agency decided to buy a bank. Saatchi & Saatchi’s idea was bigger than an ad and an agency put together. The acquisition of the Midland, one of the UK’s Top Four Banks, later relaunched as HSBC. As an employee at their Croydon branch (the Midland, not Saatchis) I recall the trepidation on the counters and in the papers.

They tried to buy a bank. How would your agency try to branch out?

They tried to buy a bank. How would your agency try to branch out?

The world didn’t like it. Media and financial institutions sneered at the Saatchi bid as ad hubris. Who did they think they were? How could an advertising agency think of transforming itself with a venture in another sector. It was like changing species.

What would have come of it? Saatchis would have had no problem getting its ads for the bank approved as they owned it. So we would have seen a class of ad that we’d never seen before. And who knows we might have avoided that 2008 meltdown thing the banks laid on, when they were left to their own devices. You know, the thing that makes it hard for young people today to buy a house.

This aspiration to establishment, whether ironic or not, was always part of the Saatchi drive. When they started out in Golden Square, the brief to the smart designer who developed the classic Goudy Old Style identity was to make them look like a City law firm or a bank. In 1987, they hadn’t ditched the idea. In fact, they took it to the bank. The financial community got the fear and the world deemed it Too Big.

Briefed to make Saatchis look like a bank, Nick Darke devised the classic Saatchi & Saatchi identity in 1970 when hair could never be Too Big .

Briefed to make Saatchis look like a bank, Nick Darke devised the classic Saatchi & Saatchi identity in 1970 when hair could never be Too Big .

Who’s to say the financial community were right? Looked at one way, the 1987 Too Big Idea was an opportunity to create a completely new type of organisation. An ideas company with the wherewithal to fund and realise ideas as they please. An entrepreneurial outfit straddling sectors, marauding and disrupting. Is it ridiculous? Is it dangerous? Is it Google?

So this Too Big Idea from UK advertising was roundly told it was too big for its boots. Shareholders rejected the Saatchi bid. Get back in your box, Too Big Idea. In 1987, the world couldn’t deal with disruption on such a scale. Though you can’t help but admire the bravery, some might take a little persuading to bank all their dough with an ad agency.

IS THERE REAL ESTATE ON MARS?

The attempted Saatchi bank job is not the biggest Too Big Idea an adworld person has ever tried to get going. For that you have to go to Chicago. It’s December 1942. An advertising copywriter called James T. Mangan and his creative partner are discussing “stuff”. Mangan’s partner allegedly looked out of the window up to the dark sky and stated there was “plenty of stuff out there.” I don’t know if they were stoned or drunk. Anyway, James T Mangan allegedly replied “I wonder who owns it” and then he declared…

Yes, naturally, he declared outer space a nation. All of it. And then he declared himself Head of the Nation of Celestial Space. As ideas go, you don’t need a degree in rocket science to see it was probably too big at the time. However, there is always a certain industry pride in seeing an ad person thinking so freely and then trying so hard to make his Too Big Idea reality, not to mention trying to solve London’s property problem before it even had one.

Big Art Deco buildings are known to inspire creatives to Big Ideas. The idea to buy outer space was launched on the 43rd floor of the Chicago Board of Trade building.

Big Art Deco buildings are known to inspire creatives to Big Ideas. The idea to buy outer space was launched on the 43rd floor of the Chicago Board of Trade building.

Mangan drafted in a typographer friend to design his letter to 74 earthly states, requesting they recognise his space state. His outer space nation’s flag briefly flew in front of the UN building in New York. He later had official stamps, coins and passports designed. (The passports were sent to US AND Soviet astronauts when early space travel started to grant them safe and legal passage through Mangan’s territory.) He also tendered 42 earth-sized plots of space for sale at $1 each. Reasonable.

James T Mangan, the copywriter who tried to buy outer space. His #space nation flag has a strangely familiar look.

James T Mangan, the copywriter who tried to buy outer space. His #space nation flag has a strangely familiar look.

In one touching sentence, Mangan explained the idealism in his thinking.

“My nation might give people enough bigness of thinking, enough bigness of disdain to make them feel international squabbles are petty.”

He might be hinting this nuttiness was actually a publicity stunt to get earthlings to live more harmoniously than in the Cold War climate of the 1950s. Although he might also have been serious. In fact, I believe he was. Because Mangan seemingly specialised in The Too Big Idea.

WHAT’S ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH WORDS?

Mangan’s biggest Too Big Idea was an altogether bigger deal than owning outer space. It’s possibly the biggest deal humans can do. The ownership of inner space. A contract between human conscious and subconscious. And (this is where we get back to words) Mangan attempted to do it through a coded language with which the conscious could give a brief to the subconscious for success in any situation. (Opportunity to try this for yourself alert.)

When you read Mangan’s explanations, they feel like a mix of mysticism, neuro-linguistic programming, the Law of Attraction, self help and con. His concept is Switch Words, a vocabulary of simplicity and strangeness, that allegedly the subconscious understands. It’s derived from Freud and expanded in his 1963 work A Design For Perfect Living.

Available in all strange bookshops since 1963.

Available in all strange bookshops since 1963.

At its simplest, you consciously define what you want to do, find the relevant switch word. Repeat the switch word regularly, (sometimes in conjunction with other switch words) then wait for your subconscious to realise your goal.

For instance, “to get in mood for writing” (Mangan’s definition), the word is GIGGLE (Mangan’s capitals.) Say GIGGLE over and over and start writing. (I haven’t tried this. After you.) “To meet a deadline” (I used this for writing this blog), the word to repeat is DONE (it worked with a day to spare).

Below are random pages from The Secret of Perfect Living (available today in all strange bookshops or on Amazon). If you want “to stay young and look young immediately”, “to banish lonesomeness” or “to dispel an attack of the blues”, Mangan might be your man.

Click "to get in mood for writing."

Click “to get in mood for writing.”

Click "to dispel an attack of the blues"

Click “to dispel an attack of the blues.”

Finally, as an ad person, Mangan helpfully supplies his fellow industry professionals with a switch word of their own. If you are trying, in his quaint words to have ideas in order “to secure publicity”, the word you need to repeat is…..I am not making this up…..RIDICULOUS. RIDICULOUS. RIDICULOUS.

Keep saying RIDICULOUS and you might have a Big Idea that secures vast publicity for your clients. Except don’t forget what was reported in Campaign, The Big Idea is dead. Until they’re reporting The Big Idea is Back, why not, like the Saatchis or James T. Mangan, try a Too Big Idea while you’re waiting?

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.

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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.