The Prostate Cancer Charity Annual Review

The Prostate Cancer Charity produces an annual review that goes out to supporters, potential benefactors and other interested parties. It’s an important piece of communication for the Charity and has to be well produced. I worked with the Charity’s designer Stuart Chapman to create and write the review for 2008/09. We commissioned illustrations from Silke Bachmann to set the tone for piece – serious yet not too heavy, optimistic without being overly upbeat. I was careful to follow suit with the tone of the copy. To complete the task I interviewed members of the Charity’s key staff and volunteer workers, either face to face of by telephone.

Weasel Word of the Week: Drink

Sainsbury's juice, and Sainsbury's juice drink

Sainsbury's juice, and Sainsbury's juice drink. Spot the difference.

The Sainsbury’s pack on the left contains fruit juice. The pack on the right contains a fruit juice drink. Same difference? After all fruit juice is a drink, right? Read on and you’ll see that the pack on the left contains 100% fruit juice (from concentrate) whereas the one on the right is only 26% – both in similar packaging, both priced exactly the same, in fact you can ‘mix and match’ these two dissimilar products to gain a saving. Given their similarity on the shelf, you could be forgiven for thinking that from a health perspective they are similar too, but again you would be mistaken. The juice ‘drink’ on the right actually has more added sugar than it has raspberry juice, and doesn’t merit a ‘five-a-day’ symbol.

All achieved quite legally by adding the magic weasel word ‘Drink’ – so you are not buying fruit juice, you are buying a fruit juice-based drink. Legally, Sainsbury’s are in the clear because the nutrition information and ingredients information is all there on the pack for those who have the time and inclination to read it. Yet their packaging strongly suggests, to me at least, that the apple and raspberry ‘drink’ is as close to a natural product as the apple juice it is sold alongside.

Comedian Dave Chappelle knows the difference between a juice and a drink…

Sainsbury’s employ their own comedians. On the pack’s side panel there is an ‘explanation’ headlined “What is a made ‘from concentrated’ juice drink? Here, Sainsbury’s have given themselves the opportunity to explain the important difference between a juice and a juice drink in words we can all understand. Instead, they have gone for further bamboozlement.

There should be a special bamboozlement award for copy like this.

There should be a special bamboozlement award for copy like this.

It opens, “Sainsbury’s juice drinks are a refreshing blend of ingredients including fruit juice, sugar and water.” Now as consumers we are used to ingredients being listed starting with the most prevalent first, in descending order. So, taking this approach, the last part should read, ‘…including water (almost three-quarters of the content), apple juice from concentrate (a mere 18%), sugar, raspberry juice from concentrate (7%), rapsberry puree (1%)’.  The copy goes on to describe the manufacturing process for juice made from concentrate – how they take water out, only to replace it later on. This is the same copy you’ll find on the apple juice pack. But remember, for a ‘drink’,  this long and worthy description only applies to the 18% apple juice and the 7% raspberry juice. It’s not relevant to almost 75% of the content of this pack which is simply added water.

And guess what? It costs the same.

The best bit comes towards the end. “…then blend it to our recipe…” You can imagine them with their chef’s hats on and big stirring spoons, can’t you. Put another way, they bulk it up with a load of water and, because you’d be bound to notice it wouldn’t taste anything like the 100% fruit juice it’s sold alongside, they mix in sugar, citric acid, colour and flavouring. And the word ‘drink’.

How very dare you, Maplin

So I am on my facebook page, and there is this irritating, ugly, flash-animated banner ad for Maplin, the high-street purveyor of toys for boys and equipment for part-time DJs. The modern-day Tandy for those that can remember that far back. I can’t help noticing that the ad is flashing up a particularly dull array of items – the same items I’d been browsing on the Maplin website a day or two ago. I can’t remember what exactly -  a pack of CD-RW, a PC fan or something equally tedious. Coincidence? Not a bit. They had tailored an ad for me, and me alone, based on the stuff I’d been looking at days ago, via cookies or something I suppose. Then pasted it onto my facebook page. Cheeky monkeys, I thought.

So I emailed them. ‘It’s like your shop assistant knocking on my door the day after I visited a Maplins shop, ‘I wrote, ‘and ‘reminding me’ what I had been looking at – in case I wanted to buy. How very annoying.’

And they agreed. They wrote back.

‘We do want to begin by apologising if the advertising found on a third party site was intrusive. This had been scheduled for trial as part of our campaign to raise awareness of Maplin and after a very brief period we found, as your email suggests, it actually had the opposite effect.

Yes in theory it sounded like the ideal opportunity to offer a selection of items to customers whom we new were already interested in but in hindsight we do not want to come across as Big Brother.

I can confirm this trial has already ceased and won’t be re-appearing and would again like to offer our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.’

Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

Weasel Word of the Week – SEO

Ok – I know SEO isn’t really a word but if it were it would be among the weaseliest of all weasel words. A lot of people apparently take the approach that SEO copy is simply dropping search words and phrases ad nauseum into otherwise potentially useful copy in order to fool the search engine robots into thinking your website has something useful to say about a topic whereas in truth you’re just trying to wangle your way up the Google listings. It can be tedious and patronising, and it’s the antithesis of good copy.

Let’s say for instance you genuinely wanted to know a bit about using mobile broadband abroad. ‘Mobile broadband abroad’ goes into google and out may indeed come this SEO puffery:

The pros and cons of using mobile broadband abroad

Of course, the main downside of accessing mobile broadband abroad is the cost of access, which can be very high if users are not mindful of the charges that are in place. On the upside, being able to access mobile broadband abroad provides both business travellers and holidaymakers with complete freedom to conduct business, enjoy entertainment, keep in touch with loved ones, and much more. Being able to access mobile broadband abroad also means that you do not have to pay the costly fees that some hotels may charge for access to the Internet.

On the other hand, some users may find that a cheaper alternative to accessing mobile broadband abroad is simply to get access through a local Internet café. Some hotels may also offer free Internet access, which is another alternative to accessing mobile broadband abroad. When considering accessing mobile broadband abroad you need to take into account your needs. For example, if you are travelling on business and need access whilst out and about then access to mobile broadband abroad is going to be far more convenient than using Internet cafes or hotels. However, for holidaymakers that just want to keep in touch with friends and family access at hotels and cafes may be a cheaper alternative to using mobile broadband abroad

This is verbal diarrohea. Soon, thanks to the present demand for SEO copy, we could have diarrohea over every page on the net. Lovely.

I see the sense in dropping some keywords into copy, the earlier in the story the better, to get some action from Google et al;  what I object to are whole articles of keyword drivel, with no attempt to infom or entertain the reader.

Life is just too short to have to wade through this kind of spam.

The dreaded letter matrix

Er... some mistake?

Whenever I’m writing a mailshot, whether it be for an email or for traditional paper-folding direct mail, I do try and remember that this is a personal one-to-one communication medium, delivered to the recipient’s own door or inbox. And I try my best to write with empathy for the recipient.

Of course, we are ‘targeting sectors’ according to a handful of vaguely known facts such as their buying habits or their tick box responses to past communications. This information is often recorded in one of the account man’s favourite tools – the dreaded letter matrix. Continue reading

Weasel Word of the Week

This week’s word: Lighter

leggeraLeggera. Now, what could this be all about? Have the food science boffins at Pizza Express invented a remarkable new lighter kind of dough that somehow has fewer calories yet retains the same delicious taste? Not exactly. Instead they have hit on the idea of cutting a big hole out of the middle of your pizza, then camouflaging it on your plate by brushing some salad leaves over it so you don’t see what’s missing. It reminds me of a jungle man-trap from a Tarzan movie. Your knife and fork mysteriously disapper into the vegetation and when you rake around for some solid ground, there’s nothing there. Continue reading

Faulty logic

Listening to the radio this morning and a man was praising something, but instead of saying “I can’t fault it”, he came out with “I can’t fault it enough”.

He was trying just a bit too hard to get his point over, and ended up saying the opposite.

This happens all the time in advertising. It’s easy to convey exactly the opposite of what you set out to do. And I don’t mean the restaurant sign that says “If you think our waiters are rude, you should see the manager.” Continue reading


A good friend drew my attention to this bus advertising creative competition from CBS Outdoor and asked me if I would consider voting for the prostate cancer charity ad. It’s a good ad, it’s a very good cause and I am more than happy to vote for it. If it runs I just hope the brand guidelines permit them to make the typography more eye catching as for me, it’s getting a bit lost . Continue reading

Weasel word of the week

This week’s word: Extra.

starburstWhich is the better offer: 25% free or 25% extra free?

‘Extra’ sounds tempting, doesn’t it – but it’s there to rob you. Let’s say it’s a cake. Adding in the word ‘extra’ means the percentage quoted refers not to the cake in front of you, that you might buy, but to a smaller cake that’s probably not on sale in the same store, that you can’t buy. Continue reading