Offending your target audience, creating confusion and breaking the rules

I’ve been happy-snapping again. It’s a bit like happy-slapping, but nobody really gets hurt – at least not physically. Wounded pride might come into it, but it’s all in a good cause. That’s right – it’s Copycam time again.

Fair game

I’m often asked about humour in copy. Some clients think it’s the way to go. And it is. As long as the humour is at your expense. Nothing endears you to your potential prospects and existing customers like a bit of self-deprecation. Laughing at yourself is a winning formula. But laughing at others isn’t. So if you feel a smile breaking out when you create any piece of marketing collateral, stop. And think. As LA Fitness should have done before they launched this ill-advised campaign to hit the Christmas splurgers. Join the church of LA Fitness? Repent your Christmas sins? What were they thinking of? Do they really imagine that fitness fanatics and Christians are mutually exclusive groups? And would they have done the same thing around Muslim, Jewish or Hindu feasts? Lesson 1: laugh at your own expense – never at your clients’.

In a class of its own

Have you ever written something you didn’t mean to? I have. It happens to all of us. When you write it, you think it’s perfectly clear. And then suddenly, it isn’t. Somebody points it out, and it’s as if you’d never seen it before. How could I have been so stupid? you ask yourself. Simple. We develop blind spots. We make mental leaps. We see what we want to see. Which is why it’s always a good idea to leave anything you write and come back to it later – next morning, after the weekend, after you’ve had a double skinny choccacino with wings. And perhaps with an extra shot of coffee in the case of the signmakers who created this gem for Santander’s branch in central Cambridge. Santander University? Last time I looked, that was in northern Spain. It’s a simple mistake that could easily have been avoided with a little more attention to detail. Which is what you get when you take a break, and look at something afresh. Lesson 2:  to say what you mean, first slow down. It’s always faster in the long run.

Make my day, punctuation

Like most scribblers, I’m a stickler for punctuation. I have a loaded red pen and I’m not afraid to use it. You may remember a while back I wrote about the wonderfully entitled “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotes. Unnecessary quote hang around words like delinquents on a street corner. They shouldn’t really be there, but nobody can quite bring themselves to get rid of them. And it appears they’re cross-cultural. Just recently, I saw this wonderful example in Cambridge’s funky Mill Road: So it’s a spoof notice? They’re not really wanted? They’re wanted for something that isn’t really kitchen duties (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)? They’re unwanted? Quotation marks are for quotes. It’s simple, really. And exclamation marks? They’re for exclamations. But you should use them sparingly, because JUST LIKE CAPITALS, they have a tendency to shout at readers. They really shout! And if you use more than one, they shout louder!!! That’s why newspaper sub-editors call them screamers. But occasionally, just occasionally, you can misuse them to good effect. As Japanese chain YO! Sushi has recently (note that exclamation mark). This is what I saw in the window of their newly opened Cambridge restaurant: Did the hackles of my inner pedant rise? Not a bit of it. Instead, I smiled broadly and thought how clever it was. It refers directly back to their logo and is cheeky, playful and eye-catching. More to the point, it’s entirely deliberate. It’s a completely new way to use exclamation marks. It’s! Fresh! It! Works! (OK, now, that’s quite enough.) Lesson 3: learn the rules. Then break them. Find out more: