Blowing off and stamping

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So today I find a mini-brochure from fairly upmarket interior retailer Habitat lying around. It looks quite nice – more to the point it smells quite nice (if you’re like me you’ll love the smell of well-printed and produced documentation) – but the first paragraph in the intro fills me with self-righteous indignant copywriter-fuelled ire.

ocean.jpg

“Our new collection blew in off the Atlantic one stormy night. Materials and shapes echo the ocean, sometimes calm, sometimes wild, sometimes both. Many products are handmade, using techniques that warm the heart and stir the imagination. And a deeply seductive indigo blue stamps its palette all over the show.”

Let’s go through this.

“Our new collection blew in off the Atlantic one stormy night.”

Now this, I actually quite like. The rest of the booklet shows a scene based in a beach hut. I’m not entirely sure why you would want a copper clock or pure white sofa on the veranda – surely sand would get everywhere – but it’s a nice presentational device. So the idea of ‘blowing in off the Atlantic’ has energy and I want to read.

“Materials and shapes echo the ocean, sometimes calm, sometimes wild, sometimes both.”

Can materials and shapes ‘echo the ocean’? I don’t think they can. They might be able to mirror the ocean or evoke the ocean, but I don’t get how they ‘echo’ it. This is a confusing image. You could say I’m nit-picking but for an image to work it actually has to produce an image in the mind. To do this, it has to be consistent and be built up in layers, so you need to continue the Atlantic theme throughout – which this line does – but you also need to make it work in the reader’s mind. I cannot make an image appear in my head in which materials and shapes echo the ocean. It doesn’t work.

And ‘sometimes calm, sometimes wild, sometimes both’. Can something be calm and wild at the same time? Isn’t this a bit schizophrenic? What’s the point of that extra piece at the end?

“Many products are handmade, using techniques that warm the heart and stir the imagination.”

‘Many products are handmade’ is taken directly from the copy brief I suspect. From the gusto of the first line we’re now down to matter-of-factness and it doesn’t sit well. ‘Techniques’ don’t warm the heart either, whisky does. I’ve never seen a glass-blown wine goblet and felt my heart warm. And I seem to recall having read the phrase ‘stir the imagination’ approximately a bazillion times before in my life.

This is getting lazy now. I think the copywriter either did this right at the beginning of the project (never write the beginning at the beginning, do it at the end), or was so fed up by this stage that he/she decided just to put something that the client would agree to, possibly because the client was a pain in the arse.

“And a deeply seductive indigo blue stamps its palette all over the show.”

You don’t stamp a palette. You can stamp your personality I guess, or your mark, but not your pallete. And we have another hackneyed phrase ‘all over the show’. I wouldn’t use ‘all over the show’ to describe a sophisticated interior design collection, I’d use it to talk about how my great aunt tripped over the dog while carrying a pint of Crème De Menthe.

So this first paragraph just seems to me to be very loose and ill-considered. It isn’t consistent, it uses lazy clichés, it changes tone of voice, and it doesn’t employ imagery very effectively.

You could argue that it doesn’t really matter and that people will just read it, turn over the page and look at the pretty pictures. But the copy is important. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have any. And it’s such an opportunity missed when it’s done badly. Whoever wrote this was given the chance to engage someone and put great stuff in their heads, and they blew it. In off the ocean and back out again.

How would you rewrite it? Yes you, sitting there with your fingers up your fanny. At a rough estimate I’d say I have four regular readers of this blog. Let’s have a competition in which I present the winner with two doughnuts and the runners-up with a doughnut each.

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2 thoughts on “Blowing off and stamping

  1. Mr. F. Ghost,
    A question for you. Since becoming a mother, I have come across a number of ‘rumours’ that might, if I believed them, ease me towards buying brand new products rather than borrowed or second-hand ones. Examples of these include:- ‘Second hand pushchairs can cause cot deaths’ and ‘It is bad for children’s feet if they wear second hand shoes’. Would these rumours be cleverly put about by leading manufacturers so that we buy Clarks shoes and Maclaren pushchairs? If so, how? Or am I imagining things?

    I await your reply with interest. Please note that I ignore any rumour that has no scientific basis.

    Teresa

  2. Mother Teresa,

    Firstly I would advise your children against wearing second-hand shoes. They may like the idea of standing on their hands – what child doesn’t? – but it’s much better for their posture if they wear them on the feet in the traditional fashion.

    As with anything in the media you have to question where these stories originate. There will be an entire chain of self-interest shaping the news. Journalists will want to reveal ‘the truth’ about second-hand products – it’s their job to find these stories after all – while companies (and PR people) anxious not to kill people’s offspring will be extremely cautious about any such rumours.

    My take on it is that companies wouldn’t want these rumours to circulate *at all*, not even to promote their new products. It’s like saying “Best buy new tins of beans Mrs Miggins cos the old ones might give you botulism.”

    You say that you’ll ignore any rumour with a non-scientific basis. This implies that you will believe any rumour based on fact. The trick is separating one from the other.

    Yours,
    FG

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