Thursday, May 24, 2007


One of my pet hates is mindless positivity.

Yes, I realise that we're in the ad business, we sell stuff, and if we want people to buy it we'd probably ought to be positive about it. But that doesn't mean we have to be positive about everything.

Indeed, I'm a big believer in Barthes' theory that meaning is purely differential, that a quality becomes evident only in the presence of its opposite, that there is no beauty without decay, no light without shade.

By and large, people expect positivity from advertising and because they expect it they filter it out. A little dash of negativity is both more arresting and more credible, and therefore more persuasive.

But all that aside, negative stuff is a heap more fun to write.

So imagine my delight when an AD at work asked me to craft for him this nasty letter terminating his account with his ISP.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to cancel my dial-up internet service with you.

Take a look at that sentence again: “I would like to cancel my dial-up internet service with you”.

It seems fairly simple, doesn’t it? It doesn’t use advanced syntax, it’s not conceptually complex, and it’s only twelve words long. Yet despite repeated efforts on my part to have you give effect to it, your ironically-named “technical support staff” seem unable to grasp its meaning. It would seem that your levels of customer service are, like your namesake, extinct.

Let me explain (I’m getting rather good at it by now – I’ve had quite a lot of practice).

Since you changed your connection numbers several weeks ago I’ve been unable to get online, yet I still seem to be paying for the service.

I’ve contacted your technical support people 8 or 9 times to attempt to have them rectify the situation. I suspect you will find this unsurprising, but they have proven to be spectacularly unhelpful. To be fair, I don’t think the fact that English is their second language, their third-world telecommunications infrastructure or the prompt cards from which they were reading helped them in understanding my particular difficulty, but they still seem to have an attitude to customer service that would be the envy of an Eastern Bloc secret police force.

The last time I called to speak to a customer service representative, I had to wait for 15 minutes before being put through to someone (and nothing says “service” like hold music). When we finally did speak, they were more than happy to help me cancel my service, which was great news, except they couldn’t do it there and then. Someone would have to call me back within 3 days.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that two weeks have elapsed and I’m still waiting.

Perhaps you could contact them on my behalf to find out why they were unable to solve my problem. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the same level of service and support as I have.

Instead of trying for a 10th time, I’ve decided to cancel my service with you.

As I have received no service since roughly the end of April, I expect you will want to refund my service fee for the intevening time. Don’t bother. Instead, I’d prefer you to make a donation on my behalf to the mental health charity of your choice, in order to provide some help to the poor souls who have been driven mad by the monotony, frustration and despair of dealing with your organisation’s staggering incompetence.


What fun.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I've always considered bloggers who just post a link to something without adding any insight or commentary of their own to be lazy, but there's something about explosions that short circuits my critical faculties.

Explosions are cool.

(Ummm...appropriate branding...mumble mumble...insight into mind of consumer...etc)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Why I don't trust research groups

Essentially, it's because you can't trust what people tell you.

Ask most people what they'd like to see more of in the news and they'll tell you the same thing - less "human interest", more commentary on global events, less celebrity gossip, more context about the important stuff, so we can get beyond the headlines and really get to grips with the world around us.

And until recently, we'd see other people on the tram with their nose buried deep in a broadsheet, assume that's what they were reading and feel guilty about turning straight to the TV section ourselves.

But the "most popular articles" section on newspaper websites has out paid to that. Here's today's for Fairfax, steadfast guardian of all that's socially engaged, middle-brow and middle-class in Australia.

Forget massacres in Darfur, global warming or elections in East Timor. What's really important is anything with the words "oral sex" in the headline.

I know it's the first article i went to.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Controversy in the creative department

Senior AD and I had a bit of a dust up over this new spot for Nando's. He reckons it's a "bunch of cats": several half-formed ideas shoved together with scant regard for coherency. His argument is that there's so much going on that the proposition - that Nando's is addictive - is obscured.

I can't really argue with him about any of that, it's just that I think the jumbled up nature of the ad is part of its charm

I could be wrong, but I don't think Nando's alleged addictiveness is really what the ad's about. I think it's more an exercise in brand personality - while all the other fast-foodies are trying to be The Beatles, Nando's fancies itself as the Pistols - edgy, a little dangerous and not interested in tastefulness.

It's got massive cut-through, it's polarising and it completely defies the norms of fast-food advertising (not a lovingly shot lettuce or a seductively framed tomato to be seen).

It's exactly where a challenger brand should be.

Monday, May 7, 2007

One for the writers

Or two, actually.

A: Subterranean Palindromesick Blues

No fan of words could failed to be wowed by this offering from Weird Al. Bob Dylan's infamously verbose "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with new lyrics composed entirely of palindromes.

Check out how tightly they fit the rhythm and rhyme scheme. Genius.

B: A rant from adssuck

Every frustration you've ever felt with a client, laid out with such elegance and venom that all I can do is present the link with an wry smirk, and murmur, in the words of Sir Francis Urquhart, "you might very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Consumers aren't stupid

A staring contest, earlier today

For those unfamiliar with the Herald Sun, perhaps the best way to get a feel for the type of paper it is is via its nickname, the "Herald Scum", or "The Scum" for short.

The chief reason for this moniker is, i think, not so much its unrelenting right-wing bias (a characteristic of all News Corp media organs, including The Australian, which engenders nothing like the same disgust) but its undisguised contempt for its readership.

Unlike The Oz, the Scum doesn't make even the faintest of nods in the direction of journalistic objectivity or balance. The paper doesn't so much blur the line between editorial and news as it does take an exact note of the line's location and dimensions, carefully paint over them with a thick slime of xenophobia, homophobia, anti-intellectualism and anti-union sentiment and stand gloating beside them, smug in the assumption that its readership will be too stupid to notice. No story is too complex to oversimplify, no adjective too blatantly biased to employ.

Yet for all its misguided "i-mentioned-the-war-once-or-twice-but-i-think-i-got-away-with-it" arrogance about its readers' inability to detect its agendas, on Thursday the Scum credited them with greater cognitive ability than most marketers ever will.

In order to try and steal some of the centre ground back from ascendant Labour Leader Kevin Rudd, PM John Howard had suggested that he would mitigate one of the more doctrinaire clauses in the new Workchoices legislation.

The Scum led with a two-word headline:


On the face of it, it's a pretty simple headline. But it in fact demands the reader to bring a great deal of information with them in order to make sense of it.

First of all, the reader has to get the analogy between an electoral race and a staring contest. It's not a particularly obvious connection because, taken on its own, it's not a particularly relevant metaphor (Howard's not really backing down to Rudd, per se).

In order to completely get it, you have to be familiar with the history of that metaphor's use. Ideally, you have to know that, almost forty five years ago at the resolution of a nuclear standoff between the USA and the USSR, someone at the higher levels of the US government (i've seen the quote variously attributed to JFK, RFK and Secretary of State Dean Rusk) described the Russian backdown thus: "we were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy blinked".

That's some fairly obscure knowledge to assume of a mass audience.* No marketer I've ever met would do it.

And that raises the question: are we,as a profession, more patronising than the Herald Sun?

*You probably don't actually have to know the whole story, but you do have to be familiar with the reference as it has translated in pop culture, as in, for example, the title of former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico's book about the cola wars.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Overheard today...

Two designers arguing quietly, respectfully, but with undeniable passion, over whether or not to turn over the word "is" in a subhead on a DL brochure.

And I think that's fantastic.

Because, either way the cards fall, nobody else is ever going to notice. Not the suit. Not the client. Not the consumer.

They're not going to win acclaim or promotion for caring about such details. In fact, far from being incentivised to care about such things, they're disincentivised (apologies if that's not actually a word). They're wasting good billable hours.

But care they do. And working with people who care about Getting It Right for its own sake is, to my mind, one of the best things about the industry.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

An ad waiting to happen...

I was going to keep this one to myself, but on reflection it's too brilliant not to share:

I. A Conversation at the Grownup Table, as Imagined at the Kids’ Table

MOM: Pass the wine, please. I want to become crazy.


GRANDMOTHER: Did you see the politics? It made me angry.

DAD: Me, too. When it was over, I had sex.

UNCLE: I’m having sex right now.

DAD: We all are.

MOM: Let’s talk about which kid I like the best.

DAD: (laughing) You know, but you won’t tell.

MOM: If they ask me again, I might tell.

FRIEND FROM WORK: Hey, guess what! My voice is pretty loud!

DAD: (laughing) There are actual monsters in the world, but when my kids ask I pretend like there aren’t.

MOM: I’m angry! I’m angry all of a sudden!

DAD: I’m angry, too! We’re angry at each other!

MOM: Now everything is fine.

DAD: We just saw the PG-13 movie. It was so good.

MOM: There was a big sex.

FRIEND FROM WORK: I am the loudest! I am the loudest!

(Everybody laughs.)

MOM: I had a lot of wine, and now I’m crazy!

GRANDFATHER: Hey, do you guys know what God looks like?

ALL: Yes.

GRANDFATHER: Don’t tell the kids.

From a recent New Yorker. Full article here.