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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

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

A Breakfast tale: How to rebrand your business in two months

April 3, 2017 1 comment

When successful online marketplace services provider Torque Omni-Channel approached us a couple of months ago about rebranding their business, they weren’t interested in a superficial cosmetic refresh (not that we do those anyway).

Their brief was straightforward and concise: they wanted a new name and accompanying brand identity. And they wanted it quickly.

Fortunately, that’s the kind of brief the Breakfast team likes.

The start of the process to the launch of the new brand (which went live on the last day of March) took a little under two months. In that time, we presented a longer-than-usual shortlist of nine potential new names, and then developed four distinct, fully-realised brand identity ideas to bring the chosen name to life.

Here is the winner.

As with any creative process, we believe the work is only as good as the brief and decision-making allow it to be. In this case, both of those were excellent. You can make up your own mind about the result… BZAR-strapline-zigzag

Could business save the world?

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment

You may have noticed that 2016 has been a tough year. Choose your own lowlight; there have been so many. It reminds me of my favourite TV commercial…

…only I’m still waiting for the “I won!” part.

Anyway, no one wants to read a whinge. So with an eye to the new year and all the optimism it brings, I’ve been trying to identify who or what is likely to ride to our aid and save the world from irreversible climate change and the worldwide rise of nationalism and its close cousin, fascism. No pressure…

It’s a tough job, but if anyone can do it I reckon it might be business.

I’ve worked with hundreds of clients – from large multinationals to tiny regional start-ups – and despite the suspicion in left-wing circles that business is a force for evil, I haven’t found that to be the case; indeed quite the opposite.

From the environmentalists working at British Energy to the care company bosses who genuinely spent their days trying to work out how they could provide better care for the elderly and better conditions for carers while government spending is slashed, the vast majority of businesspeople I have met are intelligent, well-rounded and conscientious.

Exactly the type of people who, with or without a helpful nudge from the public, would definitely think twice about advertising on Breitbart or in the Daily Mail.

(By the way, if you’ve never visited Breitbart, you never need to as every article they publish is exactly the same: I was bullied at school and my encounters with women are exclusively transactional.)

Businesses don’t take kindly to employees making threats on social media – whether in or out of work – and generally believe in many of the “tiresome EU regulations” they’re forced to observe because they actually value their employees’ health, wellbeing and satisfaction.

They also value long-term planning on things like energy provision and infrastructure,  hate ideologically-driven change, and like being able to employ who they want; regardless of where they come from.

It’s possible that while improving the standard of living for billions, our GDP-driven globalisation model will also be our downfall – if you have a spare 15 minutes, you might find this article pretty informative and depressing – but business, and the people who work for businesses (i.e. most of us) might just be alert enough to right our wrongs before they’re terminal.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Controlling the controllables

November 16, 2016 Leave a comment

It’s November, and the John Lewis ad is already on TV. Christmas party arrangements have long since been finalised. And next year’s marketing plans have almost been signed off.

If it wasn’t for the imminent arrival of a narcissistic demagogue in the White House and the very real possibility of nuclear armageddon, prospects for 2017 would be looking pretty good.

Or would they?

Before the ink is dry on your 2017 activity, take a look at your brand: a long, hard look.

Could it be better? Is it built on a coherent and rigorous brand essence? Does its visual identity emanate from a brand idea that permeates every aspect of your communication? Does it possess a distinctive and consistent tone of voice?

If it does, great…you’ve only got the Donald to worry about. Oh, and Brexit. Mustn’t forget Brexit.

But if it doesn’t, you might want to talk to Breakfast. We help Caffe Nero and Pets at Home, amongst others, with their brands, and they’re doing ok. We’d be happy to talk to you too.

What have you got to lose? Get in touch with us and we’ll happily pop one of our brand workshops in the diary for 2017, to give you something to look forward to.

In the meantime, enjoy the John Lewis ad. At least it doesn’t have James Corden in it.

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Breakfast Managing Partner Ed Will in full flow at a recent brand conference

Categories: Uncategorized

“Illegal, indecent, dishonest and deceitful” – who is in charge of adjudicating political claims?

November 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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Having spent a lifetime working in the advertising and communication industry, my sense is that everyone in the business of building brands knows the Advertising Code inside out. For the record, here’s what they say – “The Advertising Standards Authority is here to make sure advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful. Many millions of ads appear every year in the UK. We know that the vast majority comply with the Advertising Codes* – and we act swiftly to tackle the ones that don’t. By proactively checking ads and acting on complaints, we make sure that consumers are protected. Our service operates at no cost to the public because we’re funded by a levy on advertising space. Importantly, we don’t collect or administer the levy ourselves, which ensures our independence from advertisers. The ASA is recognised by Government, other regulators and the courts.”

Post Brexit and post Trumpit, my question is very simple…who in theory is who is protecting the political consumer on both sides of the Atlantic?

In turn, who is holding politicians on all sides to account when it comes to supporting political claims? Where is the evidence that we can rely on to be adjudicated by impartial judges? Who is accountable? Why have we heard a shuddering silence from the sources of sagacity in the world?

All I know is that if politics was governed by a body equivalent to the Code of Advertising Conduct, then “Locking them up!” might be less rhetorical, more realistic and highly desirable.

Categories: Uncategorized

Men who’d rather fight than win

October 21, 2016 1 comment

I grew up listening to the Clash, whose lyrics helped form my worldview and inform any number of my cultural choices, especially in music and literature. Thanks to Joe Strummer and his gang, there were a handful of Hertfordshire schoolboys in my circle who, aged 13, knew a lot more than they needed to about Nicaragua, Chile and the Spanish Civil War.

This week, as Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Drive-By Truckers’ song ‘Ramon Casiano’ has been on constant repeat on my headphones. ‘Protest songs’ get a bad press; unsurprisingly, as many of them are earnest, hectoring and ultimately a little embarrassing. I still squirm as I recall the deputy head at my senior school reading the lyrics to Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’ (not strictly a protest song but definitely a song with a message) to an alternately bemused and amused audience, and storming off stage when 300 cynical schoolchildren laughed as he played the music.

But the best examples of the genre – and ‘Ramon Casiano’ is definitely one – manage to deliver an intensely personal, passionate message without leaving you feeling like you’ve just been handed a pamphlet.

By taking the story of two men – one of whom went on to lead and radicalize the NRA – Mike Cooley manages to skewer not only the gun crazies, the racists and the cowardly; he also nails every small-minded man, languishing in his bedroom and cowed by his own inadequacy, firing off abusive tweets or Facebook posts.

This week, I broke a few of my own rules and tweeted in support of The Sun’s favourite BBC presenter Gary Lineker, as he took a very public stance in support of admitting child refugees from Syria. The gist was that I’d happily swap a British-born racist for a Syrian refugee. As a result, I received a number of bemusing and hostile replies from, as far as I could make out, British paedophiles worried that Syrian paedophiles were going to come over here and steal their work. At least I think that’s what they were saying.

Nearly all of these keyboard-warriors use false names and cartoon avatars. Some of them sort of threatened me; one told me “he wants his children touched”; some tried to ridicule me, as if supporting someone for being a tolerant non-racist was embarrassing. I think I’ll survive.

Why did I break my own rules? After all, no one wants to be lectured, or patronised. As I wrote myself a couple of blog pieces ago, the best way to change people’s minds is to be creative, satirical or simply calm and rational. In other words, to write one of the good protest songs, not to shout the lyrics from one of the bad ones.

Part of me still believes that. That’s why I’m sharing ‘Ramon Casiano’, and these two stanzas:

He had the makings of a leader/ Of a certain kind of man/ Who needs to feel the world’s against him/ Out to get him if it can

Men whose triggers pull their fingers/ Men who’d rather fight than win/ United in a revolution/ Like in mind and like in skin

It’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s a brilliant song. It’s angry, it’s articulate, and it sums up Donald Trump, police shootings, the NRA and the tyranny of small, inadequate men in a few short verses. I wish I could sum up the depressing state of our country with such economy. It inspires me to want to try the same. I’ll get round to it one day.

But part of me thinks that if you were born and raised in this country; had the benefit of an enlightened liberal education, had any number of opportunities to further educate yourself and find out the real reasons why some of your countrymen are earning less than someone who’s just arrived from Poland, Syria or wherever, and still can’t find it in your heart to provide sanctuary to someone fleeing from a warzone, whether they’re 17, 18 or 19, then, in all probability, you’re just a c**t.

Damn! Back to the drawing board…

Categories: Uncategorized