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February 2010

Rules Grammar Change

Writers note take should grammar that rules changed have. Now on from, necessary it will write to like this be. In further explanation this link.

Postcards from Macclesfield


More attentive readers will already know that, having been based in London until around a year ago, Asbury & Asbury has moved back to the north-west, just outside Macclesfield – that fine mill town famous as the home of the silk industry, Joy Division and, erm, the Macc Lads.

We've found ourselves in the position of branding a new local arts festival, known as Barnaby. It's a revival of the old charter fair that Macclesfield began celebrating around the Middle Ages, connected to St. Barnabas Day and the summer solstice.

It used to be a very big deal. Victorian times saw thousands of people flocking into Macclesfield to see fairs, travelling zoos and music hall entertainers. For a while, the fair left Macclesfield altogether – the mills would shut down for a fortnight and the town would head off en masse to Blackpool.

Over the course of the last century, the whole thing died out, as the mills closed for good and working practices and holiday patterns changed. Now it's coming back again, in the form of a long weekend of artistic, cultural and family-friendly events. It's organised entirely by a few local people volunteering their time, so there's a real grassroots feeling to the whole thing.

Anyway, these are the first fruits of our extensive, in-depth branding exercise (otherwise known as designing a logo and some postcards).


The mill is the logo and centrepiece – not so much dark and satanic as bright and breezy.

Barnabytwo Barnabybright

There's plenty of folklore and archive material associated with the festival, which the organisers have done a great job in unearthing. Like this old press cutting:


And this folk rhyme, alluding to the festival's position around the summer solstice:


We used that rhyme as the starting point for some rhyming copy (not quite worthy of the term 'poem'), hinting at what the festival will include:


We're continuing to think about various festival materials, so there may be a few more goodies to show soon.

Year of the Tiger


Tiger, tiger, burning bright,
Which animal set you alight?
Was it that antelope over there
With a book of matches and a petrol can?

Happy Chinese New Year to one and all. (The drawing is taken from here.)

Two nations divided by A Cloudy Language

Take note Dan Corbett and Rob McElwee. This is how they do it in America.

Some rather more restrained, stiff-upper-lip examples of Cloudy Language over here.

(Spotted via The Guardian.)

I don't care if you're the Chief of Police, pay the damn invoice


Waad Al-Baghdadi: Freelance design hero

The big news story of the day is the jailing of Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei for assaulting and falsely arresting a man in a dispute over a £600 web design fee.

Clearly, it's a serious story with big implications, all of which you will find explored on a proper news site. But we can't be the only self-employed creatives in the world whose immediate thoughts on hearing the reports were:

a) £600 for a website?

b) Way to chase an invoice.

Whatever else happens as a result of this case, the name of Waad Al-Baghdadi (the web designer in question) will surely become the stuff of legend in freelance creative circles.

While some of us are content to send increasingly testy emails and make the odd strained phone call in pursuit of a late invoice, Mr Al-Baghdadi confronted his client in a busy restaurant and demanded immediate payment. That's a brave move at the best of times, let alone when your client is being lined up as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

We can only hope this acts as a rallying cry to creatives up and down the land. Next on the list: Sir Ian Blair banged up for requesting free pitch. Baroness Scotland QC cautioned for over-complicated tender process. General Sir Richard Dannatt jailed for fourth round of copy amends.

As for the £600, hopefully Mr Al-Baghdadi's newfound (and entirely unsought) celebrity will mean he can raise his rates in future. He'll certainly be able to set any payment terms he likes and count on a prompt response.

Unless anyone has a problem with that?


Update: The good people at Zerofee have brought to our attention some more details on the fee dispute. Mr Al-Baghdadi was apparently commissioned for a fortnight's work (for £600?) which turned into "several months of demands to continually alter the site with speeches, pictures and articles concerning Dizaei." Sounds vaguely familiar.

Ali Dizaei also alleged that Al-Baghdadi used a 'strange' Farsi quote which translates as: "I will take the money out of your throat." Whether or not it's true, the phrase will be appearing on all our invoice reminders from now on.

Mallard confusion


On an icy morning I met a mallard,
wondering what had made the canal hard.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’s just the winter –
it makes the water hard to get inter.”

Extreme copywriting


This week's Sunday Times carries an article about (allegedly) 'Europe's dirtiest hotel', as voted by readers of TripAdvisor. It's the Grosvenor Hotel in Blackpool. Recent reviews include the observations that it is "vile", "filthy" and "has blood all over the walls and bathroom." Other customers have noted the presence of "pubic hairs on the bed", "congealed waste around the taps" and "human dirt on the toilet seat".

Naturally, I visited the hotel website to check for availability.

This is where the real fascination lies for me. How do copywriters cope when this is the product they are given to sell? What positive spin can you give? The results are strangely impressive.

A warm welcome awaits you at the Grosvenor Hotel, whether as old friends or new. Nestled in the heart of Blackpool, close to the Tower, Winter Gardens, Beach and is within easy reach of the bus and train stations. For those who wish to explore the vibrant nightlife we have a night porter on duty so there is no need for late keys. Your comfort is our priority, as is the cleanliness and standard of service.

This is marketing language under the severest possible strain (which may explain why the second sentence goes somewhat astray). Nevertheless, "Nestled in the heart of Blackpool" is a brilliantly positive spin for a hotel boasting views like this:


(This was taken by the unfortunate angleseygirl_9 from one of the 'Tower View' bedrooms.)

Within the first few lines of copy, the writer is reduced to listing the presence of a "night porter" as one of the key USPs. A more cynical reader might assume this was down to security concerns and the fear that some of the older and more forgetful residents might lose their keys, but the copywriter bravely repositions this as an inspired customer service initiative.

The claim that cleanliness is a priority is close to overstepping the bounds, but just about reined in by the use of the word 'priority' – cleverly sending out positive signals without committing to anything. (It could mean that their priority is to do something about their appalling cleanliness standards.)

By the time you get to the room descriptions, the writer is boasting of the presence of a 'tray'. Lesser writers would presumably have cracked at this point.

Anyway, it got me thinking that there should be an awards scheme for instances of Extreme Copywriting. We'll be looking out for more examples and feel free to send in your own. Just remember they need to be seriously extreme – writers battling against the odds as the semantic walls cave in.