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January 2012

The youngest ever D&AD winner?


If you’re vaguely connected to the world of social media, you’ve probably heard about 3½-year-old Lily Robinson and her letter to the manager of her local Sainsbury’s store.

Lily had quite reasonably spotted that Sainsbury’s Tiger Bread looks more like a giraffe and suggested a name change. Customer manager Chris King wrote a cute reply, agreeing that the name was ‘a bit silly’. As these things do, it subsequently ‘went viral’ on Facebook and elsewhere. In a clever move to keep the family-friendly PR story going, Sainsbury’s has now officially renamed the bread.

It’s only a change to a single word, but it’s well observed, rooted in the visual appearance of the product, and may well lead to a surge in sales. All of which leads me to wonder whether Lily Robinson could become the youngest ever winner in the D&AD Writing for Design category.

The deadline is tomorrow Lily, so it’s time to get your pocket money out.

The best slogan of all time


The new issue of Creative Review features the top twenty slogans of all time, with 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' a welcome winner.

I ended up being closely involved in the issue, joining the panel to decide the top twenty, writing an introductory article for the magazine, and being asked to ponder ideas for the front cover. 

The front cover is normally an entirely visual affair, but there seemed a good opportunity to do something more words-based. The natural answer was to use the slogans in some way and I thought it would be good to compress them all into one big slogan. Given the quality of its constituent parts, it must logically be the best slogan of all time.

This is how it reads:

Keep calm and just do exactly what it says on every little finger lickin’ tin of beanz and pop because you’re never knowingly worth the parts other beers cannot think different with flowers are you the real thing we don’t care have a break make love not vorsprung durch fraternité or hate it and carry on.

Catchy, isn’t it?

It’s been brilliantly brought to life by illustrator Miles Donovan and photographed by Stephen Lenthall, under the watchful eye of Creative Review art director Paul Pensom.

Feels like a rare honour to write a Creative Review front cover, albeit by cutting and pasting words by other people.

Will write more about the results in a separate post. (They've already been picked up in the Daily Mail, which is deeply unsettling.)

Jury service

Picture 1

I’ve been invited to judge D&AD Writing for Design this year (the 50th year of D&AD). I’m looking forward to it – I did it once before in 2010 and it was fascinating to be involved in the discussions.

As part of the invitation, D&AD asked judges to think about work they’d like to see entered in their category. It’s a slightly odd one – feels like a risk to the anonymity of the judging process. But then D&AD has been trying to shake off some of the mystique and open things up in recent years, and that’s no bad thing.

Even so, I find it hard to name specific pieces of Writing for Design. Unlike advertising, a lot of good design writing happens under the radar. Last time I judged, the nominations went to four projects, three of which I hadn’t seen before. I suspect something similar could happen this year.


One thing I would like to see entered is Siri. Partly just to see what happens. I think it legitimately qualifies in the sense of writing for product design. It’s a rare example of tonally inventive writing being woven into the product itself. The fact that Siri launched with a surprisingly witty and likeable personality fuelled much of the initial press coverage. That said, I’ve not used it myself, so I’m not sure how it lives up to the hype. It would also be a major headache to judge properly.

The same goes for Twitter accounts. These probably shouldn’t qualify for entry, as there’s no sense in which they’re writing 'for design'. But accounts like @betfairpoker have become high-profile examples of brand-building writing. At the height of the Waterstones-missing-apostrophe-rebrand-PR-firestorm, the one cheerful beacon of calm was the @WstonesOxfordSt Twitter account. Their good-humoured tweets turned a crisis into a nice opportunity to win people over. You could call it one of the best pieces of brand writing this year, certainly as far as 'the public' are concerned. But it’s not Writing for Advertising and it’s not Writing for Design.

There's an argument the category should evolve into something broader at some point – maybe just ‘brand writing’, which would open things up a bit. But it would involve rethinking the whole judging process – not sure how you assess a year of tweets in the space of a day, or whether it's even a good idea. You’d certainly have to bear in mind there’s a difference between crafting a beautifully written piece of print and posting up a few funny tweets.


One project I really liked this year was the Life turns in a sentence campaign by Leo Burnett for Swiss Life. Great little pieces of commercial poetry, and perfectly justified by the client and the brief. I’m guessing they’ll be part of Writing for Advertising, but it depends how the campaign as a whole worked.

Whatever happens, I hope there are a high number of entries in the category. D&AD remains the main place where writing gets recognised and celebrated, so it’s worth supporting.

Submit entries
List of judges

Apostrophcalypse now

Waterstonesalllogos_0Waterstone’s decision to drop its apostrophe and become Waterstones has caused a predictable media firestorm, as well as leading to some welcome publicity for the Apostrophe Protection Society (and its impressively old-school website).

I’ve recently been working with an educational college who are in the process of rebranding. They were considering dropping the apostrophe from their name and asked what I thought. I advised keeping it, not because I’m an apostrophe hardliner, but because they’re a school and it would inevitably have led to bad PR. For the same reason, Waterstones should probably have kept theirs. As a bookshop, there’s an extra burden of expectation on you to uphold what are perceived as correct linguistic standards.

But I do have great sympathy for them. For all that people are pouncing on it as an embarrassing error, the issue is more complex than that. It clearly wasn't a mistake. They spent time thinking about it and decided to do it anyway. And there are good arguments for doing so.

First of all, look at the first two words in this blog post: Waterstone’s decision. If their brand name is Waterstone’s, then shouldn't I be writing Waterstone’s’s decision? After all, Waterstone’s decision leads to potential confusion – is it the decision of Waterstone’s the company, or Waterstone, the founder?

Secondly, the passing of time can give the lie to once honest brand names. Waterstone’s was Waterstone’s because it belonged to Tim Waterstone. But it hasn’t done for years, so why pretend otherwise? Isn’t it misleading to call it Waterstone’s when it isn’t? Doesn't there come a point where a possessive shop name eventually cuts loose from its founder and rises to the status of a self-contained brand name?

Thirdly, apostrophes have always been awkward buggers when it comes to designing logos and shop signage. The arrival of domain names and Twitter accounts makes the situation worse. If the correct brand name is Waterstone’s, then you are forced into an annoying grammatical error every time you type waterstones.com or @waterstones.

So why not just drop the apostrophe and have done with it? It may involve weathering a brief storm from the nation's pedants, but then you can move forward into a blissful, apostrophe-free future.

For all that, they should probably still have kept it. Partly for the pragmatic reason that they’re a bookshop and it looks bad. But also because it's in keeping with the logo, which has returned to the traditional serif font. It sends out mixed signals to return to your core heritage graphically, but abandon it lexically.

I also admit to feeling a twinge of sadness every time a brand loses its connection with its founder like this. The apostrophe is a nice mark of respect to your brand's history, as well as a useful humanising touch – a reminder that you weren't always a big, faceless corporation.

Either way, Waterstones aren’t the first to face this dilemma and won’t be the last. Apostrophes have always had a troubled relationship with brand names. Boots, Selfridges, Harrods and Clarks have all dropped their possessive apostrophes over the years, while Sainsbury's and McDonald's have kept theirs. (Even these stories are complex – there is an argument that Boots never needed one as it refers to several members of the Boot family. And the McDonald family played a miniscule role in the McDonald's story – it was Ray Kroc who got the business going. You can't help feeling they retain the apostrophe because of the connection with that annoying clown.) Then there are the brand names to which we habitually add an ‘s’ even though one doesn’t exist. We often talk about going to Tesco’s, even though it should always be Tesco. What’s going on there?

Place names are hopelessly inconsistent as well. Is it King’s Cross or Kings Cross? St Andrew’s or St Andrews? Fair play to the US and Australia, who took the pragmatic decision to drop apostrophes from place names altogether (with a handful of exceptions). Rather that than the unsatisfactory mess we have in the UK.

Maybe apostrophes are best avoided altogether when it comes to brand names. A previous post on this blog talks about punctuation in brand names and the inevitably messy results (Yahoo! being the most obvious example). The king of the punctuated brand name is aa”lto u!niversit?y:

Picture 2
Wonder what the Daily Mail would make of that.

Top image from Creative Review, bottom image from Brand New.