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January 2010



Following the State of the Union address last night (Obama's not Steve Jobs's), I notice the press are still using Wordle as a way of visualising political speeches. It's a bit tired now and I think they should stop.

A Cloudy Language #42 to #55

We aim to feature the broadest possible mix of weather presenters in Cloudy Language, but recent weeks have seen an overwhelming Rob McElwee theme. Sightings include:

We are still in the story of rain for the time being.

That tongue of cloud is a forecast – it may be a little more dispersed than that.

A cloud envelope coming up through Cornwall late in the day...

Someone seems to have pressed the button marked 'Rain'. At night.”

(Thanks to Mike for spotting that last one.)

Some readers may think these linguistic quirks are the kind of mis-speakings that are inevitable in a live forecast. But even when Rob is writing his forecasts (as is the case with the regularly updated monthly forecast), he uses the same strange idiolect:

This coming month will prove the point as we bring back very cold air and then sit in it.

Monday and Tuesday sees the decay of this cloud and its showers.”

This week is not characterised by excessive sunshine.

A cold southeast breeze with much cloud will be our fate.

With low confidence, the signal from the virtual atmosphere suggests that central Europe will now be under the centre of the cold anticyclone.

“Temperatures remain below average but snow will probably be more of a hill or temporary event.

Do not dismiss February as a potentially cold month.

That last one is a philosophical puzzle. Is Rob saying that February has no potential to be cold? Or that it might be cold, but we shouldn't dismiss it for that reason? Is it possible to dismiss a month?

In other news, Philip Avery has taken to introducing his forecasts as though welcoming us to a sofa-style chat show:

Thank you for joining me. Welcome along to our latest thoughts on the UK weather scene.

This was swiftly followed by the It's-A-Knockout-style mixed metaphor:

Let's see how we roll out our stall for the first part of Thursday.

Finally, Dan Corbett continues to entertain, suggesting he's the only man in Britain who prepares his wardrobe several days in advance of a possible change in the weather:

For the time being, we look in that cupboard, grab that warm parka and maybe sort of say later in the week, ah yes, glad I grabbed that.

All contributions welcome, especially non-McElwee-related.

Full set here.

You wouldn't ask a copywriter to write you a headline


In our semi-recent semi-review of 2009, we mentioned loser-generated content as one of the more troubling trends of recent times.

The main player to date has been Confused.com who asked members of the public to send in lo-fi footage of themselves talking about how much money they had saved. Hey presto, a low-budget TV campaign that doubles as a viral and focus for PR.

It was only a matter of time before the same principle worked its way into print. Step forward, search engine marketing specialists Epiphany Solutions.

Over the course of 2010, they're running 12 double-page ads in The Drum along the lines of the one above.

In a move that will have copywriters around the world glancing at the nearest ceiling rose and wondering if it will hold their weight, Epiphany has asked people to tweet their headline suggestions, promising to use the best ones over the course of the year.

You can see why people do this stuff – it's a win-win. Not only do you get free content, but you also create lots of free PR, and project an aura of being inclusive and 21st-century and just generally brilliant.

Nor does it seriously spell the end for creatives, who are still needed to think up ideas like this in the first place.

What's worrying and faintly depressing is that this bandwagon is apparently only just beginning to gather pace. Pretty soon, every advertiser will want a piece of the crowdsourcing action. And then it all starts to feel a bit old. If it isn't already.

Incidentally, most of the headlines suggested so far involve people. (You wouldn't ask Peter Stringfellow for fashion advice, You wouldn't ask Russell Brand for haircare tips etc.) This has a slightly unfortunate effect when you set it against the strapline: "The Right Tool For The Job."

Might be worth crowdsourcing an alternative.

I'm not paying for that, full stop


Fascinated to see an American firm is trying to market a new punctuation mark to denote sarcasm.

They make the admittedly fair point that deaf viewers reading subtitles find it hard to pick up on sarcasm. (Which must make watching Chandler in Friends a strange experience.) And the fact that we're all emailing each other these days can lead to some tonal misunderstandings.

What's annoying is that they're trying to make money out of it. $1.99 per download.

You can't market a punctuation mark. It's just not how language works. The full stop wasn't launched with great fanfare to a waiting press corps. You don't pay a subscription fee to use the question mark. The colon wasn't unveiled after an extensive branding and consultation exercise (although maybe it should have been, given the unfortunate name).

If you want to launch a new punctuation mark, just start using it and see if it catches on. The reward of being immortalised as the originator of a fresh component in the English language ought to be enough.

With that in mind, I'd like to suggest the demi-semi-colon as a new, more definitive way to denote a subclause within a subclause of a sentence. I'll start using it from tomorrow and make it available as a free download.*

* I'm being sarcastic.

I'll be the judge of that


This year, I'm stepping through the looking glass into the mysterious world of D&AD judging. You can see the full Writing For Design jury over here.

There seems to be a writing theme developing this year, with these nice ads penned by Tim Riley, foreman of the Writing For Advertising jury.

I'm hoping there will be plenty of entries for me to cast a miserly, dismissive eye over, before wearily concluding that things aren't what they used to be. (I believe that's what's expected anyway.)

In a technical feat that doesn't seem to have got the credit it deserves so far, D&AD has managed to put the whole of the last five years' annuals up online, with the aim of getting it all digitised eventually. That's quite a resource.

Clearly, the first thing we did was to look up our entries for Corpoetics, Pentone and From Here To Here (the latter two from the days when Sue Asbury was still Sue Rogers).

The deadline is 27 January if you fancy your chances.

A very British strapline


You'd never get that in America, would you?

It sets about the lowest bar of aspiration that a strapline possibly could. Future extensions presumably include We will drag ourselves into work today and We can be arsed to answer your phone call.

You can imagine the defence the client would put up. 'It's exactly right. We really do bother to help people, unlike all those other can't-be-bothered companies that the public hate.' On a rational level, that's entirely fair enough. But, subconsciously, lines like these plant the very negative thought that they are trying to dispel. 'Oh, that's great that you can be bothered. It actually hadn't occurred to me that you couldn't. That's quite a worrying thought, now I think about it.'

Being bothered is about the minimum you would expect from a business – a step or two beyond We will fit a front door on our office. More worryingly, you're implying that any customer phoning up for a quote is actually bothering you – it's just that you're OK with it.

Still, in a world where companies are forever delighting customers, striving for excellence and exceeding expectations, there's something quite heartwarming about a line like this. Like I say, only in Britain.

The gift of Music


Before moving on with the serious business of 2010, a polite thank-you for gifts and cards received over the festive period. The stand-out item was this Woodcraft Construction Kit from design company Music. Slightly random gift, you might think. But it turns out it's one of many items featured in their forthcoming book Stuff We Really Like. It came gift-wrapped in flatplans from the book itself, with a personalised bookmark. That's a proper Christmas mailer.

Makes our Pentone card seem stingy by comparison.