Rough notes on 2014


This isn’t exactly a comprehensive review of the year, more a trawl back through things I’ve tweeted or favourited over the past 12 months – Twitter can be a useful mental archive that way (when it’s not being used for retrieving lost property, as in my most shared tweet of the year). 

One of the common themes is mortality (please keep reading). This was the year we lost great advertising writers including David Abbott (The Economist, JR Hartley and countless others) and Julian Koenig (Volkswagen ‘Think small’), and stars of design including Wally Olins, Massimo Vignelli and more recently Rodney Fitch. I wrote about David Abbott here and reviewed Wally Olins' last book for Creative Review (subs only). Also recommend New York Times on Julian Koenig and Michael Johnson on Wally Olins.

One writer happily bucking the trend is Clive James, who recently admitted to being “in the slightly embarrassing position where I say I’m going to die and then don’t.” His ‘Japanese Maple’ won widespread praise this year and he continues to write lucidly and arguably better than ever as he approaches the end.

Death has a way of leading to great writing. In the bleak aftermath of the MH17 flight, these notices in Schiphol Airport (via @jessbrammar) were a civilised, secular piece of corporate writing.



More recently, the sudden death of cricketer Phillip Hughes saw collective grief expressed through a powerful symbol. Hard not to be moved by #putoutyourbats 


Such genuine expressions of grief put into severe perspective the trend for ‘sadvertising’ that has been noted by a few commentators this year – referencing ads that aim to make us cry rather than laugh.

For example, there’s Dove challenging mothers and their daughters to confront their inherited ideas of body image (quite moving to watch, but always in the uncomfortable knowledge that you’re being sold a brand positioning).

Then there’s the camera rising from the trenches of the First World War and that big Sainsbury’s logo appearing in the sky (in the Christmas ad that at least moved the conversation on from John Lewis). Whatever you think of it, it’s hard for brands to associate themselves with issues so real and emotionally charged without at least a whiff of self-interest surrounding the whole thing. (At the other end of the life cycle, this was also the year that a detergent brand live-tweeted the birth of a new baby.) 


Then again, for all that we feel uncomfortable with brands intruding on the serious issues of life and death, sometimes life and death intrude on brands. This Costa coffin (in which a woman who was a great fan of the coffee chain requested to be buried) has a jarring and, let’s face it, blackly humorous effect. But there’s something moving about the way people form such an affection for brands – albeit not the kind of connection Costa can place at the centre of its next ad campaign.


Even more affectingly, there was this story of a son keeping his dead father’s memory alive by racing against his digital ‘ghost’ on Xbox (worth reading the whole thing here). Again, not something Xbox can easily turn into an advert (although it’s not out of the question).


Before leaving the subject of life and death, I was pleased this year to come up with a line for this bench plaque, dedicated to the very-much-alive Ben Terrett – backstory here

So, on to lighter things. Packaging copy continues to entertain and amuse, usually not intentionally.


This was the year of tomatoes with the unmistakable aroma of, erm, tomatoes. (via @whatsamadder). 


Leading edge chocolates for chocolate eaters who mean business.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 19.07.14

And the most middle-class copy ever for Waitrose (via @will_jkm)


There was also some good stuff, like this Cultivating Thought project for Chipotle, which uses packaging as a platform for interesting writing – would love to see more brands doing this, rather than chatting away about a product you’ve already bought.

Now the quickfire round:

Best speech

Bob Hoffmann hailing the Golden Age of Bullshit at Advertising Week Europe. Uncomfortable applause all round.

Best TV ad

Not strictly TV, but a 6-hour pre-roll on YouTube for Virgin America (created by Eleven in San Francisco), imagining a deathly boring competitor called BLAH Airlines. A well-worn strawman strategy, but brilliantly done: advertising as high commercial art. 

Best press ad


This Unlaunch ad for the VW Bus (actually 2013 I think).



And this Nothing happened ad for Ecotricity.

Worst print ad


This Cobra campaign, which is apparently based on the fact that Cobra is an anagram of BraCo, so let’s imagine a company that makes bras and... and... sorry, I resign. (How that brainstorm should have ended.)

Best exhibition graphics



Enjoyed these simple, writing-led graphics that completely make sense of the Design of the Year exhibition (by Ok-RM). 

Most heroic filler copy of the year

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 16.05.16

This description of curtains is one of the most stoically professional pieces of writing ever crafted, taken from the IKEA website

Best non-commercial writing project

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 17.05.17Pop Sonnets: reimagining pop songs as traditional sonnets. Lovely idea, skilfully written.

Best national slogan


Only one contender: this wonderfully evocative Ivory Coast team slogan for the World Cup. I wrote an analysis of all 32 slogans for Creative Review, including Brazil’s ‘Brace Yourselves, the 6th is coming’, which proved painfully prescient when they got hammered 7-0.

Weirdest strapline


Burger King’s new strapline was another milestone on the continuing journey into pure abstract thought that is currently being undertaken by all global brands. By 2019, all brands will have replaced their straplines with a steady, mantra-like hum. 

Brand extension of the year


This story about trademarks registered by Donald Trump is gold from start to finish (via @design_week)

Protest branding of the year


The $urreal: a mock banknote and social media campaign protesting against rising inflation in Brazil and the increasingly ‘surreal’ prices of everyday goods. 

Protest song of the year

Bit obscure, but in a year of continued austerity while the rich get richer, I liked this 64-year-old singing a 17-year-old’s song.

Plagiarism of the year


Will award this to The Sun for nicking our Nation’s Prayer and filming themselves reading it in Brazil. Happily, they eventually made a donation to Street League.

Image of the year

Has to be the one at the top of this post, from Ferguson. Sadly, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ are also the most memorable slogans of the year. 

There ends this incomplete and impressionistic review of 2014, which nevertheless took ages to write.

If only there was an efficient way of keeping track of an entire year in diary form

An appreciation of the 45-day tweet

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 13.43.56

A tweet by cheese brand Président has caused a stir on Twitter following a report that it took 45 days to prepare, including the involvement of a copywriter, designer, between 10-20 strategists, at least two social media managers, more senior writers and designers in the approval process, and then presumably various layers of management within the client company. Unsurprisingly, the result hasn’t been taken entirely seriously, but it's worth noting that it is actually quite a strong tweet.

Here’s my word-by-word appreciation.

Implants a subliminal message into the first word of the tweet, enticing readers into an RT- and fave-friendly social state of mind.

Note the modestly generic ‘a’ not ‘our’ – a brave move that theoretically means this tweet promotes competitor Camembert brands. But the right decision. ‘a’ is less controlling and more confident – and there is a massive picture of PRESIDENT CAMEMBERT below.

Important to get this into the first three words of the tweet.

with friends
More social triggering. Interesting exclusion of ‘family’ here – was this a sticking point in discussions?

Good to open with a question, immediately creating a sense of involvement and dialogue.

(How generous!)
At this point, the tweet is only seven words, but has impressively set up a dynamic tension between the opening question and the cheerful and socially flattering aside. The use of parentheses is key here – worth the deployment of two extra characters.

Note the graceful move from interrogative (opening sentence) to exclamatory (parentheses) and now into the imperative, gutturally Anglo-Saxon ‘get’. This switch of mood is a sign we are getting to the ‘meat’ of the tweet (or the cheese).

the best flavor
That mildly winded sensation you’re experiencing is the Benefit hitting home. Despite its deceptive opening, this tweet isn’t just here to make conversation – it has a clear product-related message. (Was there a discussion about the Americanised ‘flavor’ as opposed to the the UK-friendly ‘flavour’? Of course there was.)

by serving at room temperature.
The tweet is working hard now, delivering pure information at high speed. The slip into more formal language isn’t accidental, but creates a reassuring sense of quasi-scientific authority.

This is where the tweet steps up several levels from incidental disruption into pure Idea. The reader is being invited to consider all that has gone before not merely as good advice in its own right, but as one part of a bigger vision to appreciate and champion the ‘art’ of cheese. Think of the possibilities deftly captured in that 12-character device. The perfect cheddar-bread ratio for cheese on toast. The best cheese to pair with a Ritz cracker. How cottage cheese got its name. And is the subtle echo of 1980s synthpop experimentalists ‘Art of Noise’ coincidental? Nothing is coincidental in this tweet – it’s a smart trigger for the mum/dad demographic.

This appreciation is primarily concerned with the wording of the tweet, rather than the styling of the accompanying picture (which deserves an appreciation of its own), but note the enormity of the brand name – a no-nonsense contrast to the subtlety of the preceding tweet.

One final note: the entire tweet leaves three characters of its 140 to spare. At first sight, this is troubling – that’s three characters of valuable social media real estate unused. Were there discussions about this? Could there have been more exclamation marks after ‘generous’? Could ‘flavor’ have been depicted as ‘flavo(u)r’ to embrace the UK English market? Perhaps it’s nice that we’re being left to wonder what else might have been. This tweet has worked hard, but there is always the possibility of better to come.

Take your time, Président Cheese, we’re prepared to wait. 

It should be noted that the agency involved has challenged the ‘45-day’ version of events, although the journalist has stood by the reporting. I think the agency might be better off embracing the humour and mounting a forensic defence of the tweet – they are welcome to use any or all of the above.

Arguably Dylan or Crisp

Picture 4

Walkers Crisps have reportedly relaunched their core crisp flavours with new packaging featuring noticeably wordy product descriptions. Each begins with an adverb, followed by the flavour descriptor, then s0me extra detail giving a sense of 'provenance'.

The device is no doubt intended to add a little verbal garnish, in the style of self-consciously aspirational restaurant menus. However, for me, it's immediately redolent of mid-sixties Bob Dylan song titles.

Hence, in a follow-up to our not-that-popular Dodge or Fall game, we are pleased to introduce... Arguably Dylan or Crisp.

See if you can tell the difference.

Arguably Dylan or Crisp

1. Classically Ready Salted with Salt from Cheshire
2. Distinctively Salt & Vinegar with Real British Vinegar
3. Positively 4th Street
4. Unmistakably Cheese and Onion with Cheddar from Somerset
5. Absolutely Sweet Marie
6. Simply Roast Chicken with Free Range Chicken from Devon
7. Queen Jane Approximately
8. Tantalisingly Tomato Ketchup with Vale of Evesham Tomatoes
9. Obviously Five Believers
10. Only a Prawn in Their Cocktail

To view the answers, either stand on your head or turn your screen upside-down.


Communicashun over-accommodashun, yes?

You will by now have seen the video of Joey Barton being interviewed by the French press (above).

And you will surely have seen the Shteeve McClaren interview from his time in Holland:


Both videos are brilliantly entertaining, but they got me wondering about the motivations behind this evidently illogical way of talking.

It turns out there's a linguistic term for it – communication accommodation. This takes place when any individual consciously or subconsciously adapts their speech pattern to reflect the person they’re addressing. This usually takes place in subtle ways – mimicking the inflection or using similar vocabulary. When speaking to non-native English speakers, you might also slow down and soften your regional accent, in a reasonable and helpful attempt to make yourself understood.

To some extent, this is what Shteeve And Joe Le Barton are doing – speaking more slowly to make themselves understood, and bringing their accents more in line with the accent of their target audience. For all the mockery they attract, there is a sweet and appealing side to what’s going on – they are trying to help.

But in each case, this is clearly an example of communication over-accommodation: adapting your speech patterns in a way that is so extreme that it becomes condescending and counter-productive.

I wonder whether the term ‘communication over-accommodation’ might come in useful in a branding context too. This may be stretching the analogy, but many brands are continually engaged in a form of communication accommodation – adapting their native language to suit what they perceive as the preferences of their audience. While the default position for a business might be to use formal business-speak and insider jargon, the ‘communication accommodation’ instinct rightly leads them to adopt a more informal, accessible tone in their outside communications.

But in so many cases, it goes further than that. From trying to be personal and accessible, brands end up over-accommodating to the point of being condescending and counter-productive. It’s one thing to stop saying “Please find enclosed herewith the information requested”. It’s another to say “Hiya! Look inside me and you’ll find that gubbins you were after!”

I realise this is one of those posts that takes a topical event and says, 'When you think about it, that's a bit like branding, isn't it?'. But it is a bit like branding, isn't it? There are many Joey Barton and Steve McClaren brands out there. Good instincts, bad execution.

Meanwhile, and on a slightly different note, I'm continuing to document the gap between What you think your Tone of Voice is and what your Tone of Voice is. Joe Le Barton is the latest addition at the foot of the page.

Late Victorian crowdsourcing


Today’s Guardian carries a story about Kraft Foods, who have set up a new company to handle their snack food products. As is often the case these days, rather than getting the professionals in to come up with a name, they launched a crowdsourcing-style competition. The result is Mondelez, where the ‘monde’ suggests ‘world’ and ‘delez’ supposedly suggests 'delicious'.

It doesn’t immediately strike you as a great name. The pronunciation is ambiguous and it sounds slightly like a French xxx-rated site.

The tone of the Guardian article is certainly wry and the comments so far suggest the name will draw mockery, not just on its intrinsic merit or lack of it, but also for the fact that it was crowdsourced – the winning suggestion came from two employees.

But it’s worth noting that, when it comes to naming, crowdsourcing is nothing new.

As long ago as 1890, a Macclesfield breadmaker called Richard ‘Stoney’ Smith launched a national competition to find a name for his new flour and breadmaking business. The winning entry came from a student called Herbert Grimes. And it was Hovis.

Like Mondelez, it comes from a contraction of two foreign-language words. In this case, it’s the Latin hominis vis, meaning ‘strength of man’.

It’s a great name, for which Herbert Grimes won £25. Not bad money in those days, although he may have negotiated more had he known it would still be around in 120 years.

The story is proof that crowdsourcing is far from the newfangled practice it’s made out to be. In many cases, it's really a fancy name for a competition.

There’s another interesting footnote on Hovis. The runner-up in the naming competition was ‘Yum yum’, which would have set a very different tone for the brand. It suggests that a tendency for slightly grating, infantilising brand language was also alive and well in 1890.

The picture at the top of this post (sourced here) shows the gravestone of Richard 'Stoney' Smith in Highgate Cemetery. It's a fascinating irregular shape and there is something satisfying about a Stoney stone, especially as it commemorates a man whose stock in trade was ground flour.

UPDATE: This article has subsequently appeared in a revised form on the Creative Review blog. Commenter Ben Millar notes that £25 would equate to £2,400 in today's money. Not to be sniffed at.

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.

11 from 11

In the predictable rush to cover natural disasters, political upheaval and the fall of empires, many reviews of 2011 will no doubt fail to note our blogging exploits – so we've been forced to write our own.

Here are eleven posts from 2011:


1. The year began on a sad note with Mr Blog’s Valedictory Awards Show.


2. The valedictory mood continued with reflections on Rob McElwee’s disappearance from our daily lives.


3 & 4. February was poetry month – one about Asda launching a dating service, and one about the birth of a new Asbury (the defining moment of our year in a big and increasingly noisy way).


5. April saw ill-informed copywriters defacing a blind man’s sign.

6. May was all about the Creative Amnesty, a joint venture with Creative Review, which saw the great and good of the creative world sharing their worst ideas.


7. June was the month of 1,000 words.


8. July was The One With The Really Good Friends Advert.


9. September saw a rare venture into long-form blogging, with some reflections on wackaging and the trouble with copywriting.


10. October saw the unwrapping of WrapperRhymes.


11. And finally there was a salute to the greatest brand name of all time: Rotavator.


If you have been, thank you – and happy Christmas.

In praise of the Rotavator


There's a lot of talk about palindromes today, with it being 11.11.11.

Although it gets tiresome after a while*, there is something peculiarly satisfying about a good palindrome. ‘Madam, I'm Adam’ may have been the first words ever spoken. ‘Dogma: I am god.’ may have been the second. ‘A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!’ is probably the best.

I was wondering how many brands have tapped into the power of the palindrome. From what I can tell, there are only a handful, and more by accident than design. Oxo. Axa. Elle. Civic. Aviva. TNT. M&M. Other brand names lend themselves to palindromic play without being palindromes themselves – ‘A Toyota’s a Toyota’.

However, there is one brand name that really stands out, and that’s Rotavator. It was an engineer called Arthur Clifford Howard (pictured above) who trademarked the name in 1922. Since then, it has become the generic term for the product, although it’s often spelt (less satisfyingly) as ‘Rotovator’.

But what a great brand name. A contraction of 'rotating' and 'cultivator', the word revolves perfectly on itself, just like the mechanism it describes. It was a new coinage in its time and therefore completely ownable, and yet you understand what it does just from the sound it makes.

If anyone ever asks me for my favourite brand name, I now have an answer. A retrospective D&AD Pencil for Arthur Clifford Howard is surely in order.


* I'm thinking of you, ‘Sit on a potato pan, Otis’.

Web originals


I was reading Jason Kottke's blog last week and came across this post about the original Twitt(e)r branding. The post mentioned a few other early versions of famous websites, which I decided to seek out and collect in one place. You can see the full collection here.

Appropriately enough, I tweeted about the collection and watched as it 'went viral' – with over 100 retweets and 6,200-odd views of the page so far.

I think it's because people like stories of origins and unlikely beginnings. It's fascinating how so many great brands didn't get where they are because of great branding. Google started out like this!


And this was their first ever Google Doodle!


It's notable how Google subsequently dropped its exclamation mark, but Yahoo only gained it later:


Amazon was another early fan of the exclamation mark!


It's a salutary lesson for brand people everywhere that neither the logo nor the strapline (Earth's biggest bookstore) played the slightest role in Amazon's subsequent success – both were dropped long ago.

You can see some more here, including the BBC, Tumblr, Myspace, Linkedin and thefacebook.

Monkey see, monkey do




Bottom: Monkeys learn to cover their eyes when they want to be left alone (Telegraph 5.8.11)

A flowchart for freedom

Amid all the deeply serious developments in Cairo, there's something strangely heartening about seeing infographics used as a form of protest.

This placard appeared fleetingly on a Newsnight report the other night and I subsequently managed to find this picture via @glcarlstrom on Twitter. Another tweeter called @alaa provides a translation:

Civil disobedience -> Mubarak leaves -> No (loop back) / Yes -> Parliament dissolved -> Constitutional reform

From song lyrics to design business decisions, the flowchart has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. This extension of the device is a sign of the good humour and decency of the enormous majority of the protesters, for whom the ‘yes’ branch of the flowchart is hopefully very nearly in sight.

This isn’t just any poetry

There has reportedly been an outbreak of poetry in the usually prosaic world of corporate communications.

Marks & Spencer customer Christine Baxter (pictured) was disappointed to hear her local Grantham branch was closing and wrote to M&S to say so. She decided to write her complaint in verse, which is a great thing in itself. A lady writing a poem to Marks and Spencer in order to complain seems the perfect distillation of everything that is English.

But it gets better, because Alex Hawkins from the executive office at M&S decided to reply in kind. And this isn’t just any poetry – it’s incredibly bad poetry:


I completely understand you’re upset,
That our Grantham store will soon be for let.
This decision was not easy to make,
But it’s no mistake,
And we settle on it full of regret.

We know we’ve been with you for years,
And we’ll be leaving with eyes full of tears.
But if a store can’t make money,
There’s clearly something going funny;
This situation any business fears.

Marc wants to open more shops,
But to do this costs lots and lots.
We need the cash in our hand,
To spread the M&S brand.
Right now in Grantham we cannot.


On the plus side, the poem has generated some great PR for M&S and it’s nice that someone took the time to write it. But it would also make a fascinating starting point for a thesis on corporate language and poetry.

As modes of language go, they are at opposite ends of the scale. Corporate language necessarily treads carefully, with a tendency to evade responsibility and toe the party line. By contrast, poetry is all about ambiguity and multiplicity – the words go wherever they want. Mix the two together and interesting things can happen.

Take the opening line: “I completely understand you’re upset”. It’s a banal commonplace of corporate complaint handling, but it takes on a different air in poetry – there’s a sense of genuine melancholy (particularly when rhymed later with ‘regret’).

Then there’s the key couplet in the second stanza: “But if a store can’t make money, / There’s clearly something going funny;” The poet is making humorous use of rhyme (funny/money) to make the point seem incontrovertible. Advertisers have long understood the close link between rhyme and reason, and how people often confuse the two. If it sounds right, you tend not to question the logic behind it.

But there is a very questionable argument going on and the tension becomes clear in the third stanza, where the poet claims that “We need the cash in our hand, / To spread the M&S brand.” The simple rhyme again lends an air of common sense to the point. In reality, quite a strange argument is being made – that closing stores is logically the best way to spread the M&S brand.

This tension is betrayed in the language itself, which shifts uncomfortably from the tangible “cash in our hand” to the corporate abstraction of spreading “the M&S brand”. Does casting the argument in poetry highlight this tension or mask it? Maybe it does both.

Either way, the finality of the last line is chilling: “Right now in Grantham we cannot.”

Tonally, this could come straight from Larkin. There’s a sense of a very English politeness masking simmering tensions beneath. Don’t argue back, because we cannot and that’s all there is to it.

None of the news stories so far have included details of Christine Baxter’s original poem, but if it surfaces it should make for a good read.

Sources: Daily Mail and The Guardian


Photographed in our local library car park.

Cat bin woman strikes again?


Came across this poem while walking around Blaze Farm in the Peak District. There doesn't seem to be any trace of it elsewhere on the internet, so we thought we'd put it up here.

There's something particularly satisfying about mnemonic poems that teach you something. Groucho Marx once said his favourite poem was the one that starts '30 days hath September' because it's the only one that helps you remember something useful.

This one has a quite a melancholy tone, written in the past tense, for a world that has lost touch with knowledge that would once have been common across generations.

The full text:



With OAK the old-time ships were laid,
The round-backed chairs of ASH were made,
Of BIRCH were brooms to sweep the floor,
The furniture was SYCAMORE.
Clogs were of ALDER, bows of YEW,
And fishing-rods of bright BAMBOO.
WILLOW was used for cricket bats,
And OAK again for tubs and vats.
Of PINE the roof-beams and the floor
Or for the window frames and door.
ELM made a waggon or a cart
And MAPLE was for carver's art.
BEECH was for bowls, pipes were of BRIAR,
And many woods would make a fire,
But in the cottage or the hall
   ASH made the brightest fire of all.

Other books released today


With the release of Tony Blair's autobiography dominating the media today, it struck me that it must be a very bad time for someone else to release a book.

I went here to check who the unfortunate people were. Here are some of the titles I found – I couldn't spot any particular theme:

Act of Murder
Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates 
Mastering the World of Selling
All About Me
Life of Jesus 
Politics – According to the Bible
Invented Religions
Why Does God Let It Happen?
Blind Fury
In The Spin Of Things
Liability for Psychiatric Damage
Diarrhea (Clinical Gastroenterology)
Inventing Iraq
Best Fairy Stories Of The World
Growing Old Disgracefully Calendar 2011


National mascots



  1. Slick
  2. Glossy
  3. Highly polished
  4. Near-identical
  5. Automatons
  6. One blue, one yellow
  7. Morph to resemble whoever is closest to them
  8. Slightly paunchy
  9. Headlights suggest both are taxis for hire
  10. Jointly claim to represent the nation
More here.

Breathtaking confession


What? He read T.S. Eliot?

Full story here. (Love the way reading T.S. Eliot is put on equal footing to inadvertently wearing two shirts and two ties to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.)

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.

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.

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.

This is Diego Monetti


Sit down and be quiet.

This is Diego Monetti's website.

Looking at it is the most important thing you will do today.

(Spotted via OneFloorUp, for which many thanks.)

The Art of Persuasive Writing

A good definition of copywriting is any form of writing designed to persuade you to do something (usually involving parting with money). The most common advice is to keep it brief, remember your target audience and have a clear 'ask'.


It turns out bank robbers are natural born copywriters. Banknotes365 is a brilliant collection of notes pushed threateningly across counters in banks around the world – all juxtaposed with photos of their authors.

It would make a great case study in a copywriting workshop. Here are a few examples:


Good, effective, precise – although possibly focusing too much on the negative.


A subtler approach – the threat is implied rather than stated, and the writer is keen to get his audience on side (please... thanks...)


Possibly the most creative of the bunch. The unconventional construction of the phrase "A dye pack will bring me back for your ass" lodges it in the mind successfully. "Do exactly what this says" would make a good all-purpose opening for almost any press advertisement.


This needs a good editor. Note the strange use of quotes around the word 'explode', which turns a literal threat into a more figurative one.

What's most striking and touching about the notes is their politeness, even in the briefest examples:




That last 'Thanks' almost makes you well up.

The blog is by Ken Habarta who has just brought out this book collecting all the notes together.

Buy a copy. Do it now.

Thanks to One Floor Up who mentioned this on Twitter.

This article is now on Creative Review, complete with comments.

Local copywriting for local people


There seems to be an emerging trend for local dialect copywriting.

This blog mentioned the cockney cash machines a while back.

Now Spar has released a range of wine labels written in everything from Scouse to Geordie and Brummie.

So the Scouse Label talks about: "A totally boss bottle of Merlot which smells o' blackberry, choccie, a brew and toffees. Juicy and complex like, this bevey is top wi most scran 'specially me ma's scouse. Tellin ye, this is deffo a bevey that will leave youz and youz mates made up over yez Sayers pastie."

And the Somerset Label says: "Alright my luvver, eers one helluva Merlot. Be stinkin hummin a sivvies thar be bleddy ansome wi yaw croust or oggy. Purfect ta share wi yaw pardy as i' aiin ta eavy. Mygar be a purdy wine! Churs!"

No, I have no idea what that's about either.

The whole thing gets a pretty sniffy write-up in The Guardian – a bit harsh for what is really a bit of harmless fun.

That said, the local dialect does seem somewhat gratuitous in both projects. It's not as if the wines come from Liverpool or Somerset, and there's no real need for cash machines to speak cockney in what is now one of the most multicultural cities in the world.


It would be much better if the use of dialect actually bore some relation to the product itself – for example, a mug typically used for Yorkshire Tea might carry some copy in a Yorkshire accent. That kind of thing. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.


It would be nice to hear of any other sightings of this trend in action – feel free to email or stick them in the comments.

UPDATE: The wine labels were featured on Jonathan Ross on 30 October – you can see it here for the next week or so (about 5 mins to 8 mins in). Imagine they'll shift a few bottles off the back of that.

Tone of voice goes nuclear



Respectable banks offering you 'moolah for ya sky rocket'.

This is a strange time to be a copywriter.