Grammar can cause problems when we’re writing.

Some people still like to refer to arcane rules that were taught to them in the dim and distant past. They refuse to understand that usage of language changes over time. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to excuse poor use of language or ignoring grammar rules. Rules are there for a reason. But sometimes we use them to tie ourselves in knots.)

So, what are the rules when we’re trying to work out how to communicate?

Well, that depends.

There are lots of books to reference when checking how to use grammar.

One area that constantly seems to infuriate people is apostrophes.

Generally they’re fairly simple to use (if you write for a living).

But then you get the odd thing that causes consternation.

Laura Waddell spotted a really badly-placed apostrophe on a sign in her local Waitrose, so she popped it up on Twitter.

It looked like this:

Apostrophes Twitter 1

Which is pretty poor.

It reminded me of a traffic sign where I live that had a misplaced apostrophe on it. So I shared it on Laura’s post:

Apostrophes Twitter 2

I thought the sign was incorrect and didn’t need the apostrophe.

95% of people who saw it on Twitter laughed and enjoyed the joke.

Apostrophes Twitter 3

However, couple of people said they thought the sign did need the apostrophe.

So I got out my Chicago Manual of Style, The Economist Style Guide and Fowler’s Modern English Usage and had a look. I couldn’t find any reference to using apostrophes in plurals of initialisms. Seems (from a pretty deep Google search) that it was taught in schools a long time ago. However, I’m no spring chicken and I don’t ever remember it being mentioned at school.

Which leads me on to the fact that language evolves. If you read something from many years ago the language used can seem odd. (Same thing happens if you read the Daily Mail – you start thinking it’s 1917.) I think we need to move with changing usage and adapt how we write.

Even though some people on Twitter had a meltdown about the fact that the sign is (supposedly) correct with an apostrophe, I’d still argue that it’s wrong.

The purpose of the sign is to communicate clearly and simply that HGVs should turn right. In most people’s eyes that means no apostrophe. There’s no misunderstanding if you omit the apostrophe. So let’s ask it to do one.

In amongst all the debate, I did love Banana Armour’s response:

Apostrophes twitter 4

I guess what I’m saying is that a grammar debate can be a bit dull. But always remember the point is to communicate.

And it’s best to do that simply, while avoiding complicated words, in a manner that your reader is comfortable with.

The Economist has a fantastic style guide. It gives insights and solutions to things few people would give time to thinking about. And they refer the reader to George Orwell’s six rules for writing (from Politics and the English Language). The sixth of which reads:

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

To my mind, using an apostrophe in the HGV sign is just plain wrong. To use Orwell’s phrase, it seems barbarous to me. It seems to go against the commonly-held understanding of how apostrophes work. And I’d go further to argue that if professional writers are disagreeing over this, then we need to do something to simplify usage before we all disappear up our own backsides.

Say no to apostrophes for HGVs.

P.S. I do get that it’s just a sign and regardless of the position of the apostrophe HGV drivers will most likely ignore it anyway.

apostrophe

I’ve avoided making any comments at all on the forthcoming EU referendum. I’ve done it deliberately.

There’s been no rational debate. Just mud slinging, name-calling and fear-mongering.

From both sides.

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A major problem with the debating process

It’s been like listening to a group of kids in a school playground where the loudest voice is king.

So if you say anything on social media you get people telling you you’re wrong.

Seriously!?! I’m wrong for holding an opinion?

Surely that’s the whole point of debate (and, you could argue, democracy).

People are allowed to hold a different opinion. (And I’ll let you into a little secret – an opinion is all it is. It’s all based on arbitrary figures, dependent on a person’s methods, beliefs and influences. So it’s, at best, just a decent guess.)

Something else I’ve noticed clearly is that people don’t listen to understand.

They listen to respond.

So there’s never any point where they consider the other side’s view.

They just think of a bigger / scarier / more outrageous fact to throw at their opponent.

It’s sad. It’s divisive and it’s not acceptable any longer.

We need to stop people preying on fear.

Where are all the intelligent arguments for the positives of staying or leaving the European Union?

It’s been very difficult to find any commentator who has been rational and forensic about the forthcoming vote.

It will have a huge impact on the future of our country, perhaps for generations.

If you can’t see your way to a sensible, non-hysterical debate try thinking of your children.

Imagine them in the room as you start frothing at the mouth.

Hopefully that should help you maintain a modicum of common sense.

We should all be free to vote however our opinion tells us to.

That’s the power of democracy.

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The basis of a free democracy

Respect each other. Even if you disagree with each other.

Our ancestors fought wars for the right to vote and for the right to freedom.

We, currently, show no respect for their sacrifice.

We have turned into a country unable to have a rational debate. We’re in danger of creating a schism in our society we never fully recover from.

Don’t listen to the loudest voices.

Listen to the quietest ones.

Because they’re confident in their beliefs so they don’t need to shout about it.

If you only ever listen to the loudest voices you’ll live their life.

If you listen to the quiet ones you’re free to choose the path you want.

I almost signed off by saying may the best campaign win. But, sadly, I think that would mean no one would win.

Each of us can make a difference to the debate.

We can behave reasonably.

Remember to respect each other.

And remember there are no absolutes.

It’s all just a big mess of grey.

Cast your vote how you want to.

And remember when it’s all over, just because someone didn’t vote the same way you did, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. They just have different views to you.

This is one of the funniest things I’ve come across for a quite some time. It concerns a designer called David Thorne. He’s an amazingly humorous designer, satirist and man you don’t want to start having an email discussion with.

His website is outrageously amusing. He documents email discussions with people. Which sounds fairly normal. But his emails are always slightly off-kilter. You’re often not sure if he’s serious or messing with you.

He tried to pay an overdue bill (for $233.95) by sending a picture of a spider that he had drawn. He notes in his email “I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.” Needless to say it wasn’t the end of the matter. It was just the start of a beautifully bizarre exchange with a lady called Jane Gilles. It’s very much worth a read.

One of my favourite exchanges on his site is with a secretary in his office. She asks him to make her a poster to help her find her missing cat. On the surface it’s just him messing around after a secretary in his office asks him to make a poster to help her find her missing cat. This is known online as the ‘Missing Missy’ case.

If you read a wee bit deeper into it, I think it’s a great example of what can go wrong if the person briefing you doesn’t think enough about what they actually want. I see it as a searing indictment of people’s inability to think things through properly and write a proper brief.

The best way I think to show you how the conversation progresses (and how David uses exaggeration to make his point) is to just show you the conversation.

So here goes. Buckle up.

Missing Missy 1

Missing Missy 2

To be fair, his tone and heavy use of sarcasm should alert us to the fact that this isn’t going to be the normal polite email chit chat.

Missing Missy 3

Shannon, the secretary, comes back with a couple of questions. And David answers them. I love his negative space comment.

Missing Missy 4

As a small aside here, if you’re asking someone to do you a favour saying “That’s just stupid.” is unlikely to aid your request.

Missing Missy 5

Again, he’s followed her instructions to the letter. Which starts to show why writing a loose, poorly-though-out brief is asking for all sorts of trouble. Guess what? Shannon’s not happy with his amends either. I, however, am loving his work. Especially when he points out that “I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window.”

And so it continues. (I defy anyone not to laugh at the next image.)

Missing Missy 6

Again, he’s followed her brief to the letter. (Granted he’s not followed the spirit of her request, but he has answered her brief.)

Missing Missy 7

Shannon’s patience seems to be beginning to wear thin.

Missing Missy 8

Hands up who spotted that’s not Shannon’s cat?

Missing Missy 9

Surely he’ll send her what she wants this time?

Missing Missy 10

Shannon thinks she’s finally got across to David all that she wants in the poster. But we know better.

Missing Missy 11

Again, he’s followed her instructions. And she’s still not got what she wants.

Missing Missy 12

I love that he’s deliberately messing with her to prove his point – unless you think about what you’re asking someone to do it’s unlikely to end well.

Using the creative work to refine the brief is a crazy way to work. It’s lazy, disrespectful and shows you don’t actually care about the work your project will ultimately produce. You’re pretty much the nightmare client.

If only we were all as brave as David, then perhaps the people who write really terrible briefs would get their just desserts. Unfortunately, most of us are far too polite to actually point out the lack of clarity in other people’s thinking. Certainly more than once or twice on any single brief.

If you’re on the secretary’s side you’re most likely someone who writes terrible, terrible briefs.

There’s an old saying that people get the work they deserve.

So when you’re writing a brief, think hard.

Always try to communicate one single idea.

I promise you’ll get better work if you write a better brief.

If you don’t, give me a call and I’ll answer the brief for you.

And a final salute to David. Hats off to you sir. Your whimsical response to a shabby brief should be an inspiration to us all.

 

Frank Budgen was a groundbreaking copywriter, director and inspiration.
He died on Monday 2nd November 2015.
I loved his work.
He continually delivered astonishingly effective and beautiful adverts, and yet remained humble and keen to learn new things.
He understood the need to make an impact.
So he changed and evolved to ensure that his approach always felt fresh. It always had something different.
He was a hero to many.

He was responsible for one of my favourite pieces of film (not just adverts) of all time, the ‘Double Life’ spot for the Sony Playstation. For me, it absolutely nails the target audience.
They don’t see computer games as a waste of time. They’re proud of the effort they put in and the alternative digital lives they lead. It’s a tribal thing, where the advert recognises the emotion that gamers feel. It looks fantastic and it still gives me goosebumps to watch.

He began his journey in advertising when he started as a copywriter at BBDO. He then moved to M&C Saatchi before becoming creative director at Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP). The reputation that BMP enjoyed was based on their excellent creative output – one that saw regular award and account wins.

While working at BMP Frank directed his first commercial (that he also wrote) for John Smith’s Brewery.

By 1992 he had decided he wanted to direct rather than write and he left BMP to join the Paul Weiland Film Company. He continued to develop his skills there and launched his own production company, Gorgeous Enterprises, in 1997.
It’s one of the delights of working in advertising to call Gorgeous and be greeted with “Hello Gorgeous”.

He features in The Commercials Book: How 32 of the world’s best directors make their commercials. It’s a fantastic read. He talks at length and eloquently about how he approaches directing.

“In the end you have to let a piece of work kick you in the gut. I think too many people look for rules in advertising. It’s not about that. You have to feel it, and often too much of it gets strangled by logic.”

“I see my work as a team effort where there’s no distinction between writer, art director or director. Anybody can contribute to any part of the process. Most of my best work has been a collaboration between me and the agency at script stage. And it’s great when that carries on through the shoot into post production.
A lot of trust has to be given to a director the team may hardly know and I guess having an agency background can be reassuring.”

“Some people say that advertising has changed for the worse over the years. I actually think it’s got better.”

By his own admission he rarely knew what the finished commercial would look like. He took the approach that change was constant and he remained flexible in his approach to casting, rehearsals, locations and editing. And he wasn’t pigeon-holed by a style, or a technique or an approach. As he put it: “People tell me that I’ve got no style at all, which I think is meant as a compliment.”

He was recognised in 2012 at D&AD’s 50th anniversary celebrations as Britain’s most-awarded commercials director (jointly with Tony Kaye).

When he was working as a copywriter he wrote this ad for The Guardian that still resonates today.
It’s simple, memorable and powerful. The idea fits perfectly with the proposition – that The Guardian gives you every angle on a story. It was directed by Paul Weiland, who Frank went on to work for after BMP.

Here’s a selection of beautiful adverts Frank shot after he became a full-time director. Judge for yourself if he had no style.
(I think I’d change that earlier sentence to: Frank has no one particular style associated with his work. But, damn, he had style.)

Audi ‘Number One’ (1995)

Capital Radio ‘Static’ (1996)

VW ‘UFO’ (1996)

Centraal Beheer ‘Museum’ (1996)

Guinness ‘Bet on Black’ (2000)

Levi’s ‘Twist’ (2001)

Reebok ‘Escape the Sofa’ (2001)

Nike ‘Tag’ (2001)

NSPCC ‘Cartoon’ (2002)

Nike ‘Shade Runner’ (2002)

Playstation ‘Mountain’ (2003)

Xbox ‘Jump rope’ (2006)

Sony Bravia ‘Play Doh’ (2007)

And finally Playstation ‘Double Life’ (1999)

Well, it is my favourite.
Watch it again and marvel at the sheer beauty of it, on all levels.

Frank Budgen
(1954 – 2015)
Copywriter and director

Goodbye to a man who commanded armies and conquered worlds.
He will be missed.

Volvo has launched a great initiative called LifePaint. It’s come from their belief that road safety shouldn’t just be for the few, but for everyone.

Like all great ideas this invention is brilliantly simple.

It’s a spray can that has smart water in it. You spray it onto your clothes or your bike frame. It’s invisible during the day, but becomes highly reflective when headlights hit it. It’s water-soluble and it lasts about one week from when it’s sprayed on.

Now you see it, now you don’t

It’s part of Volvo’s stated aim that: “By 2020, no person will be killed, or seriously injured, by a new Volvo.”

And you can’t argue with the results.

The spray makes cyclists far more visible. And that’s surely got to be a good thing.

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Or so you’d think. While researching this article, I came across a group of people who think that this is a bad idea. And they’re all cyclists. They argue that this is part of the automotive industry’s plan to blame everyone except car drivers. Which I just don’t get. Volvo doesn’t appear, to me, to be blaming anyone. They seem to be genuinely trying to make a difference.

Surely anything that makes cycling safer has got to be a good thing?

Some protesters have suggested that Volvos should be sprayed with LifePaint. Others argue that the paint isn’t particularly effective.

Even the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) seem to be against the paint.

Rosie Downes, Campaign Manager at the London Cycling Campaign, says:

“Life Paint and its accompanying marketing campaigning is a slick idea, but will it reduce road danger? We don’t think so: collisions aren’t caused by cyclists not wearing reflective paint.

“The video tells us that cyclists need to make themselves visible, but neglects to mention that drivers who are not paying attention can and do hit anyone, whatever they are wearing. The money spent on this campaign – and on the product itself – could be much better spent on concrete measures to reduce road danger, by improving street design and tackling driver behaviour – not giving drivers a reason to take less care.”

I don’t see it as giving drivers another reason to take less care.

I see it as a great idea that’s part of the solution to making roads safer. I absolutely agree that driver education is the way forward. But enforcement by the police would make a big difference.

How often do you see people on their phones? How often do you see people in slow-moving traffic texting or using their phones to get online? How often do people drive without paying attention?

These are the things we need to eradicate.

Here’s a great advert from Tower Hamlets that shows how dangerous texting is while driving (it’s as dangerous as driving drunk!). They’ve simplified the problem and then exaggerated it, creating a hugely powerful image that hammers home the point.

Simple yet hugely powerful

Simple yet hugely powerful

Volvo has a history of safety firsts. They’ve been responsible for many safety features we all take for granted nowadays. The first three-point seatbelt. First rear-facing child seat. First to offer side-impact airbags. First to offer a blind-spot information system (that really benefitted cyclists). The list goes on. They are true innovators. You can see more of what they’ve created in this timeline video.

This history of innovation in safety has underpinned their advertising for a long time. I think LifePaint is another area where they’re trying to use smart thinking to make the roads safer. Here are some previous examples:

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Volvo cotton wool

Simplify, then exaggerate

A great thought that won loads of awards

A great thought that won loads of awards

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

There are a huge number of things we need to improve to help make our roads safer. Driver behaviour and concentration have to be at the top of the list. But anything I can do to improve my chances of being seen while I’m cycling is a great idea by me.

And I think that LifePaint is a great idea. Let’s not forget, Volvo is under no obligation to do this. So let’s try and not be cynical. Let’s embrace a great idea that will help cyclists be more visible and safer.

Hi. We’re Americans and we can’t see the link between having lots of guns and there being lots of people killed by shooting.

It’s a puzzler!

I noticed that a group in the US has started trying to make a difference and shock people into waking up and smelling the cordite. They opened a shop in NYC and started selling guns for the first-time buyer. The twist was that as the salesman told them about the gun he also told them its history and who it had been used to kill. Which is pretty powerful. You can watch the video here.

Not your average gun shop

Not your average gun shop

They produced this clever advert, using the commonly recognised target outline.

Guns destroy families

Guns destroy families

I despair virtually every week when I read of another senseless slaughter in America. You see families ripped apart. The people who are left, trying to make sense of it and wondering why their loved one (normally ones) isn’t (or aren’t) around any more.

There’s a simple solution – get rid of guns.

It’s that fucking simple.

Fewer guns mean fewer deaths.

It’s. Not. Rocket. Science.

There have been some great adverts done in the US to try and get gun controls implemented.

God bless America indeed!

God bless America indeed!

The line reads: All in favour of gun control raise your hand. All against, raise both.

The line reads: All in favour of gun control raise your hand. All against, raise both.

And before you get started on “It’s our unalienable right” blah blah blah, I’ll address that head on.

The Second Amendment states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There, apparently, are two ways to interpret this. The first way (let’s call it the moronic, selfish way) is to argue that an amendment (we’ll come back to that word later, stay tuned) written in 1791 is still valid today and means that lots of people who are of dubious mental state can keep an assault rifle at their whim.

The other way to interpret it (let’s call this the enlightened way) is that it was a law passed to counter the times they lived in (back in 1791). Transport was much slower and communities were far more isolated. So it made sense to have a militia to protect local areas. And arming them made sense too. Law enforcement back then wasn’t around, as such. They relied on local sheriffs who had little in the way of back up. And once criminals left the area there wasn’t a network of officers across the country to tackle them. So protection on the ground was important (and sensible).

Nowadays it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

Twisted logic

Twisted logic

The US has the highest rate of firearms-related homicide in the industrialised world. One study shows that people who carry guns are 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to be killed, compared to unarmed citizens.

On Friday, 2nd October, The Guardian newspaper in the UK printed figures that showed there had been 994 mass shootings in America in 1,004 days. (They defined a mass shooting as four or more people being shot in one incident.)

And it seems Americans just can’t see it.

Here’s a story of something that happened in 1987 to illustrate how fucked up the approach in the US is.

Seven-year-old Michelle Snow was killed in Riverside, California by a stray lawn dart that was thrown by her brother’s friend. The dart was part of a game, aimed at children, in the 1970s and 80s. The game involved throwing large, weighted darts with sharp metal tips at a target placed flat on the ground.

After the accident, Michelle’s father began campaigning to have the dart game banned. He argued that a full-scale ban was necessary – if you banned them in your house a neighbour’s kid could still chuck one over the fence. And he managed to get a US-wide ban (and they were banned in Canada too). It’s still illegal to even assemble a lawn dart in either of the countries. They used the fact that lawn darts had been responsible for over 6,000 emergency room visits in the previous eight years.

It made sense, and the government listened and banned the darts.

Just to recap – that’s one death caused by these darts and a total ban was enforced.

Yet the very same people can’t see that guns present a far greater and immediate danger to their children.

In 2013 a five-year-old boy in the US shot and killed his two-year-old sister. Which is horrific. He did it with a gun that was marketed to children. It was called ‘My first rifle’ and was a .22 calibre gun. Any normal person might expect a public backlash against guns and the consequences of owning them. But no. The NRA (and what a sane, rational lot of folks they are) held its annual meeting where it continued to market firearms and other associated paraphernalia to children. They had NRA bibs for children, ‘youth model’ firearms and books to make your own little psychopath a proper killing machine. And that’s not right, surely?

Let’s call it what it is – it’s fucked up. Totally, utterly, completely, mind-blowingly fucked up. And a huge part of the problem in America is the power of the NRA. And I don’t understand it. They’re outdated, out of touch and desperate to hold on to the big metal dicks in their hands.

The leader of the NRA is often heard stating the same mantra:

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA has 4.5 million members. And they can rely on the backing of arms manufacturers across the US – and we know they’re making plenty of cash. Production of guns in the US saw more than 10.8 million guns manufactured in 2013 (that’s double the total of 2010).

What’s really, really scary is that after a big shooting, the NRA’s membership seems to go up. The Huffington Post reported that, in 2013, “The National Rifle Association’s paying member ranks have grown by 100,000 in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.” This shooting killed 26 people (including 20 young children). And the response? More guns. Yee ha!

And, as the Second Amendment is an amendment, surely that means that there’s scope for a further amendment to change the way the law works? Well, yes and no. They’ve tried to pass laws to make it harder to obtain a gun. And lost. They’ve tried to ban assault rifles and lost. (They managed to get a partial ban for 10 years from 1994, but then the law expired and they’ve not managed to get a new one passed.) And it will keep on happening until someone with a big enough pair of balls stands up to the gun manufacturers and the NRA and faces them down.

Too many US politicians see that the gun industry has financial power and if there’s one thing politicians like, it’s power. So they tend to do what the money tells them to do. Much like politicians around the world – they seem to have forgotten they are elected to represent the people.

Not the companies.

Not the lobbying groups.

The people.

The very same people whose life expectancy is vastly lowered by having so many guns in the country. Perhaps one day a US politician will actually give a fuck and actually make a difference. At the moment they seem to have decided that the NRA is too powerful to challenge, so they’ve stopped even trying.

If someone told you that your child had a better chance of survival if you banned guns, would you ban guns?

Come on people. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

The heart-throb singer from 1D (that’s One Direction for those of us outside their target demographic) has done an awesome thing on the stage at his gig.

While they were on tour in Philadelphia Harry noticed a fan holding a sign that read:

“Hi Harry! Your so nice”

It was held by a 16-year-old at the concert, Taelor Ford.

Harry asked for security to bring the sign to him.

And then he took a marker pen and corrected the spelling.

Excellent work sir.

Harry Styles the teacher

Harry Styles the teacher

If people who youngsters look up to can show that language is important, it’s fantastic. I realise that I’m at risk of sounding like a stickler for spelling and grammar, but come on – it’s not that hard.

Especially your versus you’re.

One indicates possession.

The other’s a contraction of you are.

Here’s another example of how punctuation can derail what you’re trying to communicate.

The power of punctuation

The power of punctuation

It’s a very powerful example of how meaning can change depending on your punctuation. And why you should make sure that every mark you place on the page is doing a job for you.

But it can also cost you a fortune. There’s a legal case from Canada where two companies were arguing over a contract and the outcome came down to the position of one comma. The outcome meant a $1 million (Canadian) windfall for the winners of the case. All because of one comma.

Punctuation is derided and made fun of – marginalised by many and ignored by a few. But it’s a vitally important part of how we make sure we’re understood. And few things look worse than incorrect punctuation on your company’s website (belonging to your company, not many companies – something a few people online fail to notice on a regular basis).

Get it right. Otherwise you’re sure to lose business (and face). Then we might have to send Harry and the boys round.