Blog in 11 2011.
Stories. Nothing cuts through to an audience quite as well. Why else do Innocent keep telling that one about how they started? You know the one. Founders turn up at a music festival with homemade smoothies, a sign saying ‘should we give up our jobs to make these?’ and two barrels marked ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for the empties (guess which one was full at the end).
There’s something instinctive, almost primal, about how we love to hear stories and tell them. It goes all the way back to when we first lit fires in our caves and huddled round them for warmth and company.
So why do we have such trouble telling the story that should come most naturally – our own? When you’re next at a conference, have a look at the speakers’ biogs. I guarantee they’ll be lifeless and formulaic, full of phrases like ‘prior to’ and ‘delivering excellent outcomes’. It’s as if the real person has been locked up in a big tower called ‘convention’ and their personality smothered in chloroform.
Check out these (randomly googled) speakers and session chairs at a series of Healthcare Technologies conferences.
See any patterns? They’re all ultra-formal, they all reel off, with grim monotony, a list of jobs the people have done, and none of them actually say what the people did in those jobs. What if Berwyn, Stuart, Tony and co actually told us what difference they made? ‘At Medidevice inc, I led the team behind a breakthrough that means 500 less people are dying of asthma every year’. ‘In the labs I run at Mediscreen, we’ve isolated 24 mutations of the flu virus. It’s vital work that helps vaccinations work better’.
The audience may be hardened healthcare pros, but they’re still human beings. No one’s immune to inspiration.
So next time they ask for your biog at work, express yourself. Say who you really are.
Microsoft did it first (and badly) with that awful ad, where there’s a chap pretending to want to buy wifey some manner of jewellery in secret. 'InPrivate browsing. Browse with confidence’ we’re told.
And now Google is plastering the tube with similar stuff (admittedly I like most of it). But there's that one ad that really rankles. It says:
‘Imagine if you were organising a surprise present for someone special. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if that special someone found out. That's why sometimes you may prefer to keep your browsing private.’
That may be true. But I want one of these ads to tell the truth. We're all thinking it. It should say –
‘You might want to buy someone special a present and not want them to know. But more likely, you want to look at some rudie pictures or something that you’re a bit embarrassed about. That's what 'Cover your tracks'* browsing is for.’
I think we'd all appreciate the honesty. No?
*copyright Charli Matthews
Now that the Coca Cola ad’s aired, the red cups are here, and the sponsored lights have been switched on, we can safely say the countdown has begun. But alongside these usual festive brand traditions, this year has seen the (immaculate?) birth of a new and strange trend in the shape of The Nonsensical Christmas Strapline.
Brands normally known for being good at writing seem to have been gripped by yuletide mind fever as soon as the fairy lights went up.
Take Gap’s greeting, ‘Joy It Up’. I know verbing nouns was pretty, like, street a few years ago, but is outdated festive yoof speak really what Gap’s all about? I feel like I need a little bit of context to frame this odd instruction apart from just the fact that it’s Christmas init?
There’s another bit of noun verbing here in Starbucks’ equally surreal incitement, ‘Let’s Merry’. Do you think maybe they were inspired by this traditional ballad from the time of Charles II? (Thanks Google.)
Now, since we're met, let's merry, merry be, In spite of all our foes; And he that will not merry be, We'll pull him by the nose.
Except that small but all important auxiliary ‘be’ is missing there at the end. Without which, it makes no sense. Who knows? Perhaps it’ll be clearer after another venti egg nog.
Sticking with coffee, and Costa’s comparatively boring effort, ‘Merry Costa’. Which is still nonsensical but at least we can see what they’re trying to do.
But am I being a bit bah humbug? How much does comprehension really matter when it comes to seasonal greetings? The season of goodwill is all about sentiment, not sense, right? Now that we’re in full festive swing perhaps some other brands will take up the gobbledegook baton and it’ll start to get really weird. Let the silliness commence.
At the moment, I’m working from home after an unfortunate coming together of me, my bike, and the Elephant & Castle roundabout. I’ll be on crutches (and an extensive cocktail of painkillers) for a good few months. And I have an extraordinary contraption round my leg, stopping my knee moving, called a Taylor Spatial Frame, with a surprising number of wires going straight into my leg.
So, when I do get out of the house, my weirdo frame gets a lot of attention (it looks more painful than it feels). And inevitably, people say ‘what did you do?’ And I say, ‘I came off my bike’. And on account of the general gruesomeness of my frame, people at that point generally guess, ‘motorbike?’
And I say ‘no... pushbike’. It’s not a word I used very much before my accident. But when asked to make a distinction, it’s the one which springs to mind. Which is great. It’s a lovely quaint word. I feel like it belongs alongside a word like ‘wireless’ (in the old sense). Or maybe even ‘charabanc’. It’s a word in black and white.
So while I’m wishing the months away till I get back on (touch wood), I might keep using that word when things go back to normal; a little linguistic memento of times gone by.