An agency blog with news from Breakfast plus thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants on marketing, media, technology and culture. Basically anything too long for Twitter or too random for our website.

Does good writing matter anymore?

October 11, 2017 Leave a comment

I may have mentioned before that I am nothing if not a pedant when it comes to writing, particularly with regards to spelling and punctuation (we’ll come back to ‘Regards’ later). As an example of this pedantry, I find myself momentarily unable to look at my Barclays Bank online banking gizmo when logging in, because some doofus added a question mark after the instruction PRESS ENTER. I genuinely cannot see this without getting angry. (If there’s anyone else out there who shares this affliction, get in touch and we can set up a support group.)

Anyway, there have been a couple of instances over the last week or so when my linguistic anal-retentiveness has been triggered.

First, ‘warmest condolences’. I know Donald Trump is a “fucking moron” but really? It’s almost as if he’s actually a Russian chatbot with no empathy and a sketchy grasp of English.

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Second, I saw an article debating the correct way to sign off a business email and shuddered in recognition. Despite being, it says on my CV, a writer, I find formal writing quite difficult (although even I am aware that ‘Sincerest condolences’ or ‘Deepest condolences’ would be more appropriate than ‘Warmest’). Knowing which salutation or sign off to use still makes me more hesitant than almost anything else I write, and is especially tricky because I am aware how I respond when I see ‘Best’ at the bottom of an email. If it was followed by Law, Charlton I might forgive the writer.

Anyway, the article suggested ‘Thanks’ as an appropriate sign off, as it’s genuine, friendly and informal. Personally, I’m not so sure. But I understood the apprehension that can accompany the wrong language in a business setting.

At least, I get apprehensive. Do you? I ask, because I suspect that tolerance for poorly written communication is growing; something confirmed by the numerous errors you will see – especially in social media – from brands that one would hope might put a higher premium on accuracy.

When I run my occasional workshops about writing for brands, I always stress the importance of accuracy when communicating on a brand’s behalf. If they can’t write accurately or well, why should you trust anything else they do? But does that hold true anymore, in a world where an inarticulate self-confessed sexual predator with a 48-word vocabulary can become President of the USA? It might be true that bank scam emails make deliberate, obvious spelling errors to ensure they only receive replies from stupid people, but as we observe the rise of an idiocracy, is it necessary for brands to maintain high standards?

The immediacy of social media and the unreliability of spell check has created a perfect storm where (I presume) junior marketers and creatives are let loose on brands’ behalf, armed with average writing skills that emojis can only do a certain amount to rescue. If only a (very) few diehards like me become apoplectic when confronted with a glaring error, this trend may well continue.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover that my colleague Aisha, though only 23, shares my hatred of random capitalisation, spelling errors and the like, and, if anything, gets even more visibly annoyed than I do. There is hope, after all.

What do you think? Have you spotted an error in this article? Am I being unfair to dyslexics? Let me know.

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Categories: Uncategorized

He’s floated away

September 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Being an adolescent boy is a mix of suppressed rage and desire combined with adrenaline, enthusiasm, energy and occasional bursts of pure joy. Grant Hart wrote this song and captured all that and more. RIP Grant.

Categories: blogging for Britain

Work experience stint pays dividends

August 9, 2017 Leave a comment

In these troubled times, when even having the temerity to walk past a jogger can put your life at risk, wouldn’t it be nice to stumble upon a feelgood story? Well wouldn’t it?

That’s lucky. Because it just so happens that Breakfast have a new employee. Her name is Aisha Pegley and she has now joined full-time after a couple of temporary stints (when she not only proved herself to be bright and energetic but also modelled in an ad for one of our clients). It’s a Cinderella story.

COOP002-Big-Issue-7Aisha will be deploying her many talents across all aspects of the business, but specifically by being someone else to ask when we wonder where Ed has got to.

You can contact her at apegley@breakfastagency.com if you want to say hello or try and sell her some office furniture.

Edit: All new employees at Breakfast have to endure our fearsome initiation ceremony: drawing a horse in under a minute. Here’s Aisha’s… a worthy addition to the canon.

Aisha's horse

Categories: Uncategorized

“And how was the campaign for you, Mrs May?”

Until recently, General Elections could be reliably guaranteed to produce ads – usually posters – that by virtue of media coverage, would end up being seen by more or less everyone in the country.

Not in 2017. Can you name a single memorable political poster? I can’t. While the Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket ad from 2015 was a poor example of the form (I blogged about this here), it garnered some column inches and TV airtime.

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Now, it seems, our two main parties are devoting their resources to social media, with Labour in the ascendancy on Twitter (which tracks well with the better educated and metropolitan types) and the Tories ruling the roost on Facebook, which has a broader, more representative user base and might have something to do with the illegal use of data. If you believe what you read in The Observer

Anyhow, with no decent advertising to speak of, the most noticeable marketing-related efforts in this election have been slogans. I wrote back in 2015 about Nigel Farage being ahead of the game in terms of repeating a single, simple message and backing it up in words and deed. He might be a c*nt, but he’s not an idiot.

With that in mind, the Tories hit the ground running with “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos”: snappy three-word slogans which (you might have spotted if you’re a sentient human) they repeated ad nauseam in the first week of the campaign, tethered not to the party, but to Theresa May, whose personal poll numbers must have been only slightly less impressive than Kim Jong Un’s in the weeks before her announcement of the election.

Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a classic case of assertion rather than demonstration, as May has made a mockery of her own USP by looking nervous and guarded in front of crowds and by executing a massive U-turn the day after the Conservatives’ manifesto launch.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Conservative parliamentary candidates for London and the south east at the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow, north west London

Theresa being charismatic

If (a little bit of politics now) she’d had the guts to stick to her guns and tell us that the only way we’ll be able to pay for social care in this country going forward is to ask those who can to pay for it, she’d have enabled strong and stable to ring true. Unfortunately, “strong and stable but unpopular with your core voters” was deemed a tad unwise in an election campaign, so she folded like an executive order by Donald Trump.

Subsequently, her team have taken her out of the firing line, avoiding TV and radio interviews and ensuring that only party members are present in most of her public appearances. Like many other people, I’ve always maintained that being comfortable in front of the media and able to connect with people on a human level does not necessarily make you a great leader. But it’s fair to say that we all feel a little uneasy when confronted by someone who exhibits all the empathy of a South African prison guard from the 1970s and a truly remarkable inability to think on her feet.

Anyway, back to slogans. “Coalition of chaos” was another catchy, well thought-out line of attack that has endured longer than “strong and stable”, although as soon as the various parties ruled out any deals or pacts the Conservative hierarchy dialled it back a bit.

The other problem the Tories have had is that Theresa May’s stodgy, “best of a bad bunch” message plays so poorly when contrasted with left of centre politicians saying popular, human, empathetic things. Which, when they’re in opposition (as they usually are) play well. Lots of irate right-wingers – and the Daily Mail – took to social media after the BBC leaders debate moaning about bias, but a) the Tories’ policies aren’t by and large the kind of things you’d cheer for, and b) even if they were, many people don’t like admitting they’re Tory in public. It wasn’t a biased audience: it was an audience where the Conservatives (comprising 35% of those in attendance) sat on their hands or clapped politely every so often, while the other 65% demonstrated understandably more enthusiasm for sentiments like “we’ll give you better healthcare/ schools and tax the rich.” It’s really not complicated.

Anyway, while “coalition of chaos” and “strong and stable” have endured a bumpy ride, Labour’s “For the many, not the few” has articulated the party’s USP pretty well, and grown more relevant as the campaign has progressed. Under Blair/ Brown, “the few” fared extremely well, so this slogan isn’t as facile as it might first seem.

Jeremy Corbyn’s unapologetic acknowledgment that the very wealthy are going to be paying for at least some of the largesse he has promised has had the effect of enthusing his base by reconnecting the party’s newly-minted membership with its core principles. It’s exactly what Nigel Farage did: take a truth, communicate it at every opportunity and back it up with your actions.

Unfortunately for Labour, for all UKIP’s mastery of their message in 2015, they didn’t manage to see their increased relevance reflected in the numer of parliamentary seats they secured. They have been a phenomenal success as a pressure group and an irrelevance as a political party. I may be wrong, but I suspect Corbyn’s Labour Party are about to suffer a similar fate. There’s only so much that a slogan – or an ad – can do.

 

Some things never change…

I entered the advertising industry because I liked ads. Sometimes – whether I’m shutting down a pop-up in annoyance or watching a piece of over-researched, idea-free drivel – I have to remind myself of that.

That’s why the IPA’s decison to celebrate their centenary by asking notable ad folk to nominate their five favourite ads is a welcome tonic. Dave Trott’s selection, here, is a timely reminder of some of good advertising’s simple, eternal truths. He quotes Walt Disney’s observation that, “We have to entertain in order to educate because the other way round doesn’t work.”

That wisdom applies to a lot more than just advertising. Anyway, enjoy the ads. I did.

Categories: marketing ramblings

It’s been emotional

A few years back, one of my former colleagues and I branched off to work on a football-related project. He had – and has – absolutely no interest in football; to the extent that he isn’t even familiar with the names of some of our nation’s world-famous clubs.

When I asked why, he said that he had enough ups, downs, happiness and pain in everyday life. Why would he want any more?

If you’re not a football fan, you won’t understand that supporting a team is not necessarily a choice, it’s just part of who you are. I’m Tottenham. I have been since the age of 7, and there’s not a fat lot I can do about it. My great-grandfather played in the victorious 1921 FA Cup winning side, both sides of my family originate from the Tottenham/ Edmonton/ Wood Green area and no one on my mum or dad’s side of the family has ever supported another team. It’s Spurs all the way.

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Jimmy Banks, my great-grandfather and Tottenham Hotspur footballer

I’m not given to displays of emotion in every day life. I don’t cry. I’m not very tactile – to say the least – and I don’t talk about emotions. I’m English, in other words.

Clearly, I am dealing with some deep-seated issues, and a work-related blog is not the place to get into those. But I don’t think I’m unique amongst a certain strain of my fellow countrymen, and like many of those fellas, the much needed outlet for my repressed feelings is football.

Was the best day of my life when my children were born or when I saw Spurs win the UEFA Cup in 1984? I can’t really answer that, but I only helplessly screamed myself hoarse in happiness on one of those occasions.

Do I still become disproportionately miserable when Spurs lose? I do. Does someone identifying themselves as a fellow fan make me predisposed to think well of them? It does. Have I employed someone on the spot when their football allegiance became clear? I don’t think that decision falls foul of any employment legislation.

Anyway, you get the picture.

This Sunday is Spurs’ final game at the stadium where I have spent a significant proportion of my life. I hadn’t been especially sentimental about this, as the amazing new ground taking shape next door will signal a long overdue step forward. But still…years sitting in the East Stand, next to my dad, watching Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Ossie Ardiles, Micky Hazard, Steve Archibald, Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham, Gary Mabbutt, Ledley King, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric… I have spent so much of my life there, experiencing every emotion under the sun (and that’s not an exaggeration – I was there on the evening that Fabrice Muamba collapsed and, we thought, died on the pitch at White Hart Lane), that for the stadium to be demolished this coming Monday can’t leave me unmoved.

I’ve mourned Bill Nicholson, seethed at the cynicism of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton side on that same day (the antithesis of “It’s all about glory…”), and, of course, erupted in happiness as crucial goals are scored, important saves are made and vital games are won.

If you don’t get it, fine; football isn’t for everyone. Sport isn’t for everyone. But there are few times or places  in our lives when we can forget the really important stuff and surrender ourselves to something that, while not actually a matter of life and death, certainly feels like it for 90 minutes every weekend.

Goodbye, White Hart Lane. I’ll miss you, but you’ll always be part of me.

Categories: blogging for Britain

I’ll keep this short

Here are some things I recommend you watch or listen to if you get the chance:

Athletico Mince – If you think Bob Mortimer is a comic genius, this podcast is for you. If you don’t, listen to it and you’ll change your mind. It is sometimes referred to as a football podcast, but it isn’t, although knowing what Sean Dyche and Steve McClaren (both below) look like will aid your enjoyment. Start at about episode 12 and enjoy the progression. And never look the laird in the eye.

Hell Or High Water and Get Out – The last two movies I watched have both been exceptional. I won’t summarise them for you – that’s what Rotten Tomatoes is for – but if you missed these, do what you can to see them.

Front Row Seat to Earth by Weyes Blood – Natalie Mering’s voice is transcendental. Play this with the lights off, or your eyes closed, or while taking in the bucolic view of your choice, and the world becomes a better place.

The Power of the Dog and The Cartel by Don Winslow – David Simon’s The Corner and Homicide used real life events on the streets of Baltimore to highlight the idiocy of The War Against Drugs, in a pair of books whose occasional departure from the narrative allowed the author to display some of the finest contemporary writing I have read. Don Winslow takes a slightly different tack by turning the exploits of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman into a pair of long, fictionalized accounts of Mexico’s drug trade, and the United States’ intermittent efforts to control/ exploit/ profit from this lucrative cross border powder trail. If you’ve ever bought illegal drugs, you’ve contributed to horrendous, violent, grisly deaths like those chronicled here. Just say no, kids.

That’s it. As you were.