The Fiat Coupe ad, copywriter Gideon Todes, art director Sally Bargman agency DMB&B 1995
When the ad launched, the car sold out and the second hand price of the car exceeded the list price for a new car. The ad itself was shot on what was then regarded as an unfeasibly small budget and the toys car you see in the middle of the commercial was actually sourced from my parents attic.
A few years ago organisations suddenly woke up to a question proposed by this man, Simon Sinek. He asked what is your Why? He pointed out that in a world where every product is on the way to being a commodity, the only thing that differentiates it, is the ethos and the why of the company that’s creating the product. And that if you start from the Why and works outwards you get more compelling communications than when you start at the commodity end and forget the why. The why of an organisation is really another way of saying what role does it want to play in our lives, and the biggest clue to that is the tone it uses to speak to us.
In the world of celebrity chefs there is plenty of competition. Nigella Lawson has created a niche for herself as the lover brand of chef. She can’t resist temptation, loves chocolate, the recipes may or may not work if you’re being precise, but hey, precision takes second place to passion. One of her most telling quotes is that she never understands people who forget to eat. “I never forget to eat,” she says.
And so all the passionate love of food with a hint of sexual desire get transmitted in her TV and writing. Here it is brilliantly spoofed by Private Eye’s Craig Brown.
This is a brass plaque that used to live where the post office was in Kentish Town, London. It remains one of the most improbable and impenetrable sentences I’ve ever read. And yet it exists and presumably makes sense in some kind of context. That context will of course be a legal one, and to some lawyer maybe from another century it makes perfect sense. The point is, this communication is best and perhaps only understood in terms of a contract that lies outside the communication itself.
One question that is very useful to ask is: What’s the contract that surrounds a piece of text? Is it a coercive context like a legal framework? Or is it a persuasive context like an advertising poster? Every piece of writing has a contract and it’s usually implicit.
A broadsheet newspaper might be: Pay to read this and we will give you thoughts ideas and information that is reasonably accurate and will make you look more informed in your social and business interactions. We will be interesting enough for you to want to read.
A parking ticket and parking signage has a very different contract: Read this carefully or not, it’s up to you. Fail to understand what we mean and we’ll tow your car away anyway.
The less well a parking signage is written the more revenue the council can collect. It’s one of the reasons signage is often so difficult to fathom.
Over control and obsession with health and safety is the biggest killer of creativity. And it seems parents in the UK have become masters of it, but not so in Germany and Denmark. Maybe as this video suggests, because they were able to observe what kids were doing on bomb sites after the war. It’s tempting to link this with a lower child suicide rate in these countries too. Whatever your parental notions are, the lessons for creativity are clear. It’s a messy business and if you over protect you ultimately stifle.
In his eloquent argument for the hands on physician, Verghese also gives us a masterclass in case history telling, weaving as he does, one story into the next. He also touches on the quintessential case history expert, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Enjoy.
One of the problems mobiles responsive sizing gives us is that we’re never sure exactly what is going to appear as the final result. Pictures have to be created so that the subject of the picture is in the centre. That limits things considerably. And there’s even more trouble when you start putting type messages in respsonsive situations.
You want the message to appear as Acme is proud to sponsor World Aid . But what you actually see in certain screens is different.
Acme is proud to ponsor id. The truncation is worse than meaningless. It makes the brain work hard to guess something that probably wasn’t very interesting in the first place. The Two Ronnies nailed the experience with this classic sketch.
Until Linkedin produces responsive banners the advice has to be don’t put type in the banner head.
What’s the difference between an observation and an insight? Insights are generally based on observations but they go further. They’re generally unexpected, and they have real value to the reader.
They often require joining some dots and give an ah ha moment to the person who discovers them or is told them for the first time. They are often the product of asking the question “why?”
People generally read text for insights but they want to be able to see that the observations are there to back those insights up.
Sometimes people write stuff up for the benefit of those they’ve just had a conversation with. And what you often get is an aide memoire for both parties, and that’s perfectly fine. But if you then hand the same piece of writing to someone who wasn’t in on that conversation, and you present it as a report, the results can be quite confusing.
Think of the whole transaction as the white and the yolk. What was said is the white and what is written is the yolk. The yolk can seem like the concentrated essence of the egg, but that’s not really the case. They’re two different things. If you’re going to help people who weren’t in the room at the time of the conversation to understand what went on, you’re going to need to include some context.
When we give attention to a piece of text it’s almost always because we think we’re going to get something out of reading it. That’s a value exchange and if you’re not giving your readers any value, you won’t build any readers. The only exception to this is if you’re working in a coercive environment where you can penalise people for failing to read. Good luck with that to anyone writing outside North Korea.