in Advertising, Business speak, Publicity

Culture Club

News is just in that 10-year-old digital agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine (now there’s a good name) has been bought up by M&C Saatchi.

What interested us was the language used to describe the merger.

Here’s what a partner at the digital hotshop said:

“It’s only my wife’s persistence that has stopped me tattooing the Lean Mean Fighting Machine logo on my arm. I love this agency like a weird adopted child. But after ten years, the time feels right to mix things up a bit.”


Whereas the CEO of the bigger agency said this:

“Lean Mean Fighting Machine’s sense of adventure and innovation perfectly complement M&C Saatchi’s entrepreneurial spirit. Likewise, their industry defining skills across all digital channels will augment our extensive digital capabilities, allowing us to unlock more creative opportunities for our clients.”

Language and culture go hand in hand. Let’s hope they’re on the same page.



in Advertising, Brand writing, Copywriting

Microsoft Misfire

We know how to write persuasively. You speak to your reader, flatter them, sell your benefits. But Microsoft’s system has gone AWOL. In an ad effectively trying to persuade businesses to ditch Windows XP and upgrade to Windows 7 or 8, they’ve taken a peculiar tone.

Pushing ahead

Microsoft’s stance has the potential to make their customers feel silly. The article starts: ‘It’s time to embrace the future, not the past’. Now, it’s good to encourage customers to ‘embrace the future’. You sound aspirational – a great way for Microsoft to sound. But it’s the comment trailing behind the comma that shows where Microsoft’s persuasion goes astray. Customers could feel foolish reading this if they haven’t upgraded yet. They won’t have been trying to ‘embrace’ the past, they might have just not got round to updating yet. But Microsoft go further than potentially making customers feel silly.


Business battlefield

Microsoft use their artillery to leave customers feeling worried. They bombard them with the risks of not upgrading. They tell them that it’ll be like a ‘fire’. It’ll ‘wreak havoc’. It’ll hold your defenceless data ‘ransom’. And exposed in no-man’s land, you’ll be at a ‘greater chance of attack’. For Microsoft, this does make sense. They do need customers to understand the dangers of using an older system, but in trying to persuade them to upgrade they could use a less scary technique. Rather than worrying customers, they could’ve sold the benefits of Windows 7 or 8 over XP.


The misfire

Although Microsoft do nothing wrong in warning customers, they might inadvertently end up scaring them. It seems that they’ve missed a trick. Rather than writing negatives and showing their fears that customers will ‘crash and burn’ without them, they should have shown customers how great their new products are.


Have a read. You’ll see what we mean.



in Copywriting, Grammar, Writers

“The world’s most accurate grammar checker.”

That’s how Grammarly describes itself on its website, anyway.

Spurred on by their modesty, we thought we’d run Grammarly’s own number one reason you’ll love Grammarly  blurb through the site’s free online preview tool.

After all, they must have checked their own copy before sending it live, surely?

To our surprise, despite the promise of “impeccable grammar,” Grammarly scored itself a measly 60 out of 100. “Weak. Needs revision,” it sniffed.

Maybe it wasn’t a fair test. The people writing for Grammarly hadn’t claimed to be literary geniuses, after all.



So we thought we’d try a literary genius.

Orwell would do. Named by The Times in 2008 as “the second best British writer since 1945,” surely he’d pass Grammarly’s test?

A quick Google search, and page one of Nineteen Eighty-Four was copied to the clipboard and ready to go. We dropped it into Grammarly, and the cogs began to turn…

Sixty seconds later, up popped the result. “55 out of 100. Weak, needs revision.”

There are “24 critical writing issues” in the first 500 words, apparently.

Poor George Orwell. He might’ve topped that Times list, had he had a little help from Grammarly.

in Advertising, Copywriting, Creativity

If you work in brand or advertising, you might remember a story from 2007 about a new TV ad from Guinness.

It was eight years since their 1999 classic, Surfer – which had been voted ‘Best ad ever’ in a Sunday Times poll.

(If you haven’t seen that one, watch it now with the sound turned up. It’s still incredible over a decade on. And so many other great ads – including Honda’s Cog and Cadbury’s Gorilla – are indebted to it.)

Anyway. A hard act to beat.

Everyone tried their best. They ended up making the most expensive Guinness ad ever – in total, around £10 million was put behind it. And the press coverage all led on the ‘how much it cost to make’ angle.

We’ve no idea whether it paid back or not. But for all that cash, it left us cold. (You can make up your own mind here.)

The point is, a big production budget doesn’t guarantee a great idea.

Shoreditch fitness club Frame didn’t have millions to spend. Their yoga promotion wouldn’t even stretch to a photo shoot.

But they did come up with a great idea. It’s funny. It’s cheeky. And it stops you in your tracks.

In just nine words.

(Click for a better look)












Thanks to Gordon Comstock for tweeting the original pic @notvoodoo

in Business writing, Jargon, Tone of Voice

American business website has just published a very funny guide to the most annoying and pretentious business jargon.

All the old classics are there. Solution. Core competency. Outside the box. Plus a few that are gaining in popularity (hard stop) as well as some we hadn’t heard yet, but which will no doubt be here before long. (Are you in the swim lane? Have you sent that report over the wall? Or maybe you’re out of pocket?)

It was great to see some personal favourites in among the list, too. Like the creepily inappropriate open the kimono. Not yet widespread in the UK, we have heard it in boardrooms of global phone companies along the M4.

And we liked the entry on empower: ‘Also called “the most condescending transitive verb ever.” It suggests that ‘You can do a little bit of this, but I’m still in charge here.’”

Burning Platform is neatly extinguished, too: ‘Jargon for an impending crisis. Better: “We’re in big trouble.”

There’s even a nod to the career-limiting potential of this kind of language. In the words of a top headhunter, “aspiring managers would do well to remember that if you can’t express your idea without buzzwords, there may not be an idea there at all.”

It’s good. Go on, peel the onion.


in Brand writing, Business writing, Copywriting, Tone of Voice

January. Brrr. How are those New Year’s resolutions doing? Hopefully you haven’t given up just yet.

Perhaps you didn’t make any. In which case, we’d like to suggest one that shouldn’t be too hard to keep:

Write more like you speak.

“What? Write exactly like I speak?”

Well, no, not exactly. We’re not suggesting you start dropping lots of ums and errs into your emails – the ‘fillers’ that pepper most people’s everyday chat.

But when you’re at work – writing to a colleague, or for a customer – just think a bit more about the words that you’re choosing.

That’s an important word, too. Choosing. Every word we use is a choice, whether we’ve made it deliberately or not. We say choose the most natural words when you’re writing, instead of the jargon-y, business-speak-y ones we all pick up over time.

Why? Well, it makes things easier to read. Easier to understand. And more likely to have the right effect. More natural writing feels more personal. Put simply, it’s nicer.

Why say alternatively, when or will do?

What’s the point of dispatched, when you can just write sent?

There’s no need to amend. You can update, or change.

Get into the natural habit, and your words will sound warmer.

How can you tell what’s natural?

Easy. Just read it out loud. If the words flow freely, chances are that they’re fine. It’s when they start to sound funny, a bit 1940s-newsreader-like, that it’s time for an edit.

Ask yourself, would I really say that? You know. Out in the real world.

If you’d left your phone in the pub, you’d never say oh no, I’ve left my device at the Dog & Duck. But some telecoms firms still write device, even though mobile or iPhone (if it is one) sound better.

At first, it can be hard to hear the difference between what sounds ‘normal’ and what doesn’t. Especially if you’ve gone a bit ‘native’. A long time in an industry can have that effect.

Or maybe you’re a fast learner, and have just fitted in quickly with the way things are done. (Note to managers: that’s why it’s so important you lead by example.)

If that’s what’s happened, try a second pair of eyes.

Ask someone else to read it through for you. Tell them you’re trying to make things sound natural, and they’ll pick out the weird bits that you might have missed.

It will take a bit longer at first. But soon, it’ll be second nature.

Natural, in fact.

in Brand writing, Business writing, Tone of Voice

I am currently OOO

That’s what someone said in an email once. It came as a bit of a shock.

OOO? What does it mean? Are you alright? Hope things are okay.

Turns out they just weren’t in the office.

It’s curious, how we write when we mean we’re not there. We tend to come over all formal. Using words we’d never say if we were speaking out loud.

I am on annual leave

If you require urgent assistance

In my absence, please contact

But what if we tried something else?

By being a bit more open, a bit more ourselves, we might make a difference to somebody’s day. Raise a smile. Light a spark.

Try putting a bit more personality into your next out of office.  Here are some highlights from our favourites so far.

Hello and apologies, but I’m stuck in a snowdrift.

I’m in York for a half Indian, half Croatian wedding. And I’ll be trying to wrap myself up in a sari for the first time, which should be interesting…

Christmas has come early. I’m on leave to wrap presents and stuff the turkey. I’ll be back and refreshed on the fifth.

Turning 30 is hard work when you’re also 6 months pregnant. So I’ve taken a day off to recover.

I’m out and about today. I’ll get back to you on TGI Friday.

I’m on a train to Leeds with Jamie Oliver. We’ll, he’s two carriages down…

Or this, which could be our favourite yet:

There’s no other way to say it. I’m on holiday.