Blog in 06 2014.
You might have noticed there’s a bit of football on the telly at the moment.
Yes, the World Cup’s here, bringing with it hundreds of analysts, bloggers, commentators, pundits and podcasters.
TV punditry is dominated by ex-pros, fond of telling people that ‘the Pirlos of the world’ (pretty sure there’s only one Pirlo, Andy) like to play ‘in and around the opposing number ten’ (pretty sure he can’t play in the opposing number ten, Andy). They’re also fond of phrases like ‘he’ll be disappointed with that’ and ‘if anything, he hit it too well’. Players are ‘unveiled’, small teams are ‘minnows’ and transfers are ‘protracted’. Words you’d almost never use in a sane conversation pop up constantly.
At the other end of the spectrum are the bloggers and podcasters. These guys are so knowledgeable on the game that they’ve coined an almost entirely new language to debate it in. If you don’t know your trequartistas from your registas*, and your inverted wingers from your false nines, you’ll struggle to make it through a match report.
But there is one pundit who’s managed to unite both camps in something approaching admiration: part-time pundit and England coach Gary Neville.
And his secret? No jargon or clichés, he just uses everyday language. Here he is breaking down where Liverpool went wrong against Chelsea at the end of last season.
This is a team that did some absolute no-nos. There is a way to chase a game: you don’t shoot from unrealistic distances, and you don’t cross from deep areas unless you’ve got big men in the box.
As ever, it’s the person who can explain complex ideas in a straightforward way who gets the most respect.
And thanks to England’s performance this summer, he’ll be back in a commentary box soon. (He’ll be disappointed with that.)
*These aren’t technically new terms, they’re Italian positions that have been around for decades – but they’ve only found their way into English commentary in the last few years.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought a picture frame from Habitat (don’t worry; this blog gets more interesting). At just the wrong moment for them, they’ve asked me to review their service on ‘independent review community’ site Trustpilot. And in the middle of my grumpiness about the seemingly endless and impossible task of getting a picture frame from one part of London to another (sorry, I know I promised), I got a nice surprise.
When you go to post a review on Trustpilot, you get some writing advice.
It kicks off with ‘Your opinion in one sentence’. ‘Write a catchy header to make your review stand out’, it adds.
And then, when we get to the main bit, it tells you to ‘write as if you’re speaking to a friend’.
Really simple, and really effective. And most importantly, it nudges you in the right direction at just the right moment. At The Writer, we’re always moaning about the fact that even brands who’ve bothered to decide how they sound too often hide that advice in guidelines documents that no-one ever looks at.
Better to stage an intervention: surprise people with useful ‘tone of voice’ direction in the PowerPoint template everyone has to use, or on the timesheet everyone has to fill in. It’s much more likely to hit home at the point when you actually have to use it.
No, not that hash.
I’m talking about hashtags.
I used to hate hashtags. More accurately, I hated how a lot of people used them.
I thought they should only be used to tag topics of interest, which was their original function on Twitter, the site that made them popular.
As in: ‘Stubborn Love is my favourite #Lumineers song.’
Twitter automatically turned a hashtag phrase into a hyperlink to search results for that phrase, which made for a tidy, useful system. If a tweet intrigued you and it contained a hashtag, you could click on it and quickly find all the other tweets on that topic.
But soon enough people started using them to just add free association nonsense to their tweets. And later, Facebook posts.
You know what I mean.
‘Going to see the #Lumineers tonight! #SoExcited #CantWait #GuitarsAndFedorasTogetherForever #LoveMyLife #DontHate #Blessed’
Why’d I hate stuff like that? Mainly because it was unwieldy. Aesthetically unpleasant, like getting to your hotel room to find a sweeping view of a brick wall.
But it also annoyed me because I felt that people were using hashtags as cover to say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say. Like they knew the things they were writing were obtuse but they were shoving them in my face anyway.
But I’ve had an epiphany. This ‘liberal’ use of hashtags ain’t so bad after all.
See, while I want things to look nice, at the same time I also wish people were less afraid of writing. Less reticent about expressing themselves.
And if my social network is at all a realistic sample, there’s no question that hashtags let people who ordinarily don’t say or write much of anything in public show another side of themselves. On balance, I have to say that’s a good thing.
It also got me thinking. If hashtags let people say things they wouldn’t normally say, and if they let people who wouldn’t usually say anything say something, then they might be a great cure for writer’s block.
I’m not suggesting that when you have writer’s block you get on Facebook and fill your status update with random thoughts.
But I am suggesting you pretend you are. Think about what hashtag phrases you’d use for your topic, and I bet you’ll free your mind up to produce words you wouldn’t ordinarily come up with.
So if I were coming up with a theme for this post, I might think about:
If you’re a gentleman astronaut, and you go into space, NASA give you a penis tube. (So you can wee without it going everywhere. We’re guessing there’s some sort of Shewee equivalent for the ladies.)
They had a problem though. Despite the perfectly good sizes available, astronauts kept finding the sleeve was slipping. And, well, how do you clear up that kind of mess in space?
Turns out, the problem wasn’t the sleeve. It was the names. Penis sleeves come in ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’. And what man wants his manhood to be labelled small?
So they renamed them ‘large’, ‘gigantic’ and ‘humungous’. Brilliant.
It’s a great lesson in functional vs emotional names. Functionally, ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ are accurate – and descriptive. But they don’t appeal to people in the real-life situation, when a gentleman astronaut has to ask for a small penis sleeve, please.
Starbucks do a similar thing. (In naming – they don’t sell penis sleeves, as far as we know.) Their smallest cup is called tall. And their medium size is grande. So even if you only want a little coffee, you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
So before you name your next product or service, ask yourself, am I just being functional? Or am I appealing to people’s emotional side too?
Because a company offering small penis sleeves isn’t going to last too long.