Blog in 04 2013.
Companies giving themselves a facelift is big business these days. Take Canadian bank the North Shore Credit Union, who’ve decided to rebrand their branches as ‘Financial Spas’ (complete with comfy sofas and aromatherapy candles). They describe them as places where ‘West Coast Zen meets financial boutique’. Very nice. But is this anything more than a glossy surface makeover?
In workshops, we often talk about the difference between a company’s language in their up-front advertising, and how they sound when they think you’re not looking (like in the small print and Ts and Cs). A bank’s branch definitely counts as a bit of glossy advertising; it’s the first thing you see when you go to open an account – and by making it as plush and relaxing as possible for their customers, North Shore are doing no bad thing.
YOU HEREBY RELEASE, REMISE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE NSCU FROM ANY AND ALL MANNER OF RIGHTS, CLAIMS, COMPLAINTS, DEMANDS, CAUSES OF ACTION, PROCEEDINGS, LIABILITIES, OBLIGATIONS, LEGAL FEES, COSTS, AND DISBURSEMENTS OF ANY NATURE AND KIND WHATSOEVER AND HOWSOEVER ARISING, WHETHER KNOWN OR UNKNOWN, WHICH NOW OR HEREAFTER EXIST, WHICH ARISE FROM, RELATE TO, OR ARE CONNECTED WITH YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE WEB SITE.
So which is the real North Shore Credit Union? Is it scented candles and pots of fresh coffee, or is it barking incomprehensible website law?
If companies really want to give themselves a makeover, then the language they use is a big part of any cultural change. The new North Shore looks great – but the language doesn’t match. They’ve broken the mould with boutique branches; maybe it’s time to think about how their boutique bank sounds, too.
Our Ed has waxed lyrical before about how much he (and we) like the name Little Waitrose.
Just as good is Petit Pret (Pret A Manger’s compact cousin). Obviously, it’s exactly the same idea. Just in French.
It feels like a whole genre: cute brand extensions. Little Waitrose, Petit Pret, Dave Ja Vu, and the sadly defunct BMI Baby. They’re ace.
Sometimes a tiny bit of writing can be inordinately powerful.
Us Writer trainers spend quite a lot of time in the air, and I usually fly British Airways (for the points, and the ineffably polite cabin service, occasionally tinged with a note of public-weary sarcasm). But one thing I love about BA is that when I print out my boarding pass at home, it says at the top:
Mr Neil Taylor, you’re ready to fly.
It’s just so... exciting. Romantic. Like I’m about to step onto an aeroplane (no, hold on, definitely an airplane) in Rio in 1953. Or something. And that little ‘Mr’ is important, too. I don’t get mistered very often (and when I do, I don’t always like it). But BA pull it off.
None of which usually bears much resemblance to the rest of my flight. But it sets me off with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Just like one of our workshops in California: a woman brought along a receipt from the US outdoorsy brand Prana. She’d kept it in her purse for five years because she liked a quotation they’d printed on it. How much would an ad agency pay for that ‘share of mind’? Every time she got her money out, she saw this brand. For five years (and counting!).
It cost them virtually nothing to do. But it’s why we think the nooks and crannies of a brand’s writing can be priceless.
You know the saying: there are no statues of committees.
But there are lots of committees in the corporate world. As a business writer, every word you commit to paper will be scrutinised by a dozen eyeballs at least.
Maybe that’s because having opinions about language is difficult.
The committee acts as a safety blanket. If the hive mind agrees that the words are right, no single person needs to take responsibility if it all goes pear-shaped.
But let’s face it: committee decisions don’t tend to go pear-shaped.
The committee is a sieve. You put something jagged in one end and out the other comes a perfect circle. Smooth. Inoffensive. Beige. Like every Wikipedia article.
And that’s the thing. Though safety blankets are good for fighting disasters, they never come in shocking puce. Committees protect, they don’t provoke.
But sometimes writing should be jagged. It should piss people off. Make them gasp. Make them cry. Make them feel something.
That’s why everybody mentions either this or this when pressed for the best ad of all time. The VW ad will have put off swathes of potential customers. The Economist one will have irked anybody with a discrepancy between their age and job title.
Likewise, I’m hoping a lot of you will disagree with what I’ve written in this blog. Because that’ll mean there’s a core group of you who don’t.
But either way, at least you’ve reacted. If I’d put this blog through a committee, you wouldn’t have had the chance.
I read our Anelia’s blog about how the upbeat packaging for Halls cough sweets put a smile on her face. Then on the train on the way home I spotted this Nurofen ad. And I have to admit I rolled my eyes so hard they practically disappeared into my brain.
Oh no, I thought. Anelia’s right. I’m grumpy. I’m jaded. I’m British.
But hang on. I don’t think I’m that repressed. I even cried at a Sainsbury’s ad once. (You know, the one where the dad and the little boy have a day out together, and they take the train to the seaside, and frolic about with a kite for a bit, and have an ice cream, and then they go home and make a massive pie for dinner, and the mum comes home and finds them cuddled up on the sofa fast asleep... oh blimey, it’s set me off again.)
I loved the Halls packaging, too. It’s funny and cute. So what is it about the Nurofen ad that’s curling my stiff upper lip into a sneer?
It seems to be trying to get at some universal human truth. But to me, its grandiose sentiments and rhetorical repetition don’t feel authentic. It makes me feel jaded because I’ve heard it all before.
And I can’t relate to it, either. Yes, I often soldier on through sniffles and sore throats. But if I get a real humdinger of a headache, I tend not to think to myself: ‘I will not let my spirits be dampened! I’m on a constant journey!’ To be honest, I’m just as likely to throw in the towel and go for a nice lie down.
(After popping a couple of Nurofen, natch.)