Emojis: Linguistic evolution? Or stupid, bastardised Internet glitter?

Every generation bastardizes the language. It’s happened since forever. So really it should come as no surprise that the emerging rebellious youth, armed to the teeth with unlimited data caps and early-onset thumb arthritis, are helping to steer the vernacular into wondrously new, if head-scratchingly confounding, places with ‘emojis’ (winking smiley face).

meaning-of-emojis-11

The ‘Call an ambulance I’m having a stroke’ emoji.

The evolution of language is a natural, beautiful thing. It helps shape a generation’s identity and date stamps the zeitgeist, and hopefully, as a result, we progress as a society. Cultivating new ways to communicate helps us form bonds with our peers and gives the ‘cool kids’ a sort of shorthand to help them decipher who’s in and who’s out. But above all, it’s supposed to make communication easier.

Yet, I can’t see ‘emojis’ helping ‘us’ achieve any of these things.

woman emoji

I don’t know either TBH.

They distract, confuse, obfuscate, but most mischievously of all, potentially purport to dumb us down. Try finding the ‘emoji’ equivalent of distract, confuse and obfuscate, for instance. “Um, ok, well I’ve got a woman shrugging her shoulders…will that do?” No.

‘Emojis’ are the linguistic equivalent of glitter: nice in theory and can clearly serve a purpose, but once unleashed now inhabits every crevice of our existence and is seemingly impossible to get rid of. I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that they’re some big, dumb ‘so bad it’s good’ joke that people began using ironically. Only it’s been going on for so long now that everyone seems to have forgotten the punch line, walked the chicken back across the road and are now happily drinking in a bar with a horse, a tiny man with a piano, and various men of cloth.

maxresdefaultDon’t get me wrong; ‘emojis’ have their place as hieroglyphic hashtags to be used after the main event to highlight your point (ok signing hand) or provide a witty rejoinder (poo with eyes (hilarious)). However, plonk them in the middle of a sentence in place of an actual word and leave the reader to decipher your message at your own peril.

So are ‘emojis’ here to stay, or will they be banished to the cultural wilderness like Hammer Pants, tamagotchis and wine cooler?

I guess only (clock face) will (person whispering into their hand).

In defense of puns

Ah, puns. The copywriter’s equivalent of the dad joke. Harmless, chuckleworthy, eye-rollingly good plays on words that make us expel air out of our noses at a rate faster than normal for at least one breath.

I will admit I love a good pun and even kind of like a ‘bad’ pun. Good on them for having a go, I’ll think to myself. See, when you’re coming up with headlines for things, you try to find ways to highlight the stuff you’ve been told to highlight. You need to make a connection between the product and the potential consumer. Why not draw on common ground with a few well-placed words that have a smile-inducing double meaning?

But I’m not in the majority here. Some people hate puns, or deride them as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. They say ‘there’s no such thing as a good pun’ and spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to create a gem before reverting to a tried and true “more than just a…”, “we’re for…” or new favourite “welcome to…”.

As such, advertisers of a certain chip colour have been reticent to deploy puns in their mass-market communications. This week, a few would argue we’ve all been witness to front row seats as to why.

Woolworth’s ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign drew a strong reaction, and deservedly so. The internet responded as the internet does and amongst the swathes of digital disbelief and virtual hand-wringing someone somewhere pointed out that one of the worst things about this misguided use of the word ‘fresh’ was that is was a pun.

Great, I thought. Another thousand lashes for the fly-ridden dead horse of pun hate. But as a staunch defender of the play-on-word, I feel a need to intervene.

‘Fresh in our memories’ was not a pun. I appreciate that this makes as much sense as saying water is not a liquid, but lets look at the actual facts. Yes, it has a double meaning, but only because of the association the Woolworths brand has with the word ‘fresh’. If it was a true pun, the fresh would refer to the people in our memories being either crisp like a spritzed iceberg lettuce or somehow dressed like the Price of Bel Air. It’s also neither smile-inducing nor giggle-worthy in any way. And the only air that would be expelled from one’s nostrils upon reading it for the first time would be from indignant anger, not some beige variety of pleasure.

Not a true play on words. Not funny. No nostril air.

Three strikes you’re out = Not a pun.

The internet will move on by the end of the week. But brands will be more cautious as a result. Knuckles will be rapped and contracts will be reviewed. And standing in the line-up with the guilty parties will be the pun. A case of mistaken identity in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfairly judged for a crime it did not commit and I for one feel sorry for them. So now it’s not so much that every pun is a bad pun, they’re all just poor puns.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it.

Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor forced to hire his own sister.

It is with great regret that Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor announces the hire of a new Digital Strategist: his sister, Kate Crawshaw.

“I can’t believe I’m having to say this out loud in public, but I have a talented sister who knows more about the important field of Digital Strategy than I do.” says Taylor through gritted teeth.

According to Taylor, he was left with little choice. “Recently, more and more of our clients have been wanting in-depth strategic thinking for their digital and social marketing campaigns. I tried everything I could to hire someone else, but – and it kills me to admit this – the fact is my sister is one of the best thinkers in the field. Her fifteen years experience and strong skill set in everything from board-level facilitation and creation of strategic plans to implementation and staff training is perfect for our clients and for us.”

Headlock_01small

“As part of her hiring conditions I’m required to acknowledge that she is now, has been and always will be smarter than me and that Mum loves her more because she is clearly the better child.”

Crawshaw is clearly happy with her new role. “Now that the whole sibling rivalry thing’s been acknowledged as the no-contest it obviously was, I’m looking forward to teaching the little snail-eating bedwetter how the world really works. I’ll give my little brother his due, though. Shabbadu is a fascinating business with some great partnerships already in place. My role is to help nurture those relationships as well as strengthening internal processes as the business heads into an exciting growth stage.”

Taylor has no concerns about mixing family and business, though. “Look, if it doesn’t work out I’ll give her a hug, thank her for her help and tell her she was adopted.”

The art of giving feedback ~ or ~ The Shit Sandwich

We ‘creative types’ are a sensitive bunch. Sure, we might act all aloof and intellectually superior on the odd occasion, but in reality we’re just faithful hounds to our client masters: pining for a belly rub and hoping they remember to feed us on time. This Jekyll/Hyde persona is no-more pronounced than during the creative presentation/client feedback parts of the creative process.

A presenting creative is confident and assured. They have answered the brief in a fresh way and they’re bound to blow the client away with their cleverness. A creative receiving feedback is the ultimate submissive. The client holds their hopes, dreams and future successes in their hands. In some strange way, this piece of work represents a small piece of the creative’s soul.

Don’t laugh, this is serious.

To a creative person, to stand before a client is to stand before Caesar. For they are the ultimate judge. There is no appeals tribunal. Just a thumb pointing up or down.

So stepping out of the poor, defenseless creative person’s $200 trainers for a second, it’s not the client’s fault that they can’t take criticism, is it? The client has a job to do. They have their own masters to please. Why can’t it just be how they asked it to be?

Well, the simple answer is, it can.

Sometimes as creatives, we get it wrong. Sometimes we get it hugely wrong. Other times, it’s mostly right but with a few little tweaks it’ll be bang on. Still, when we get it wrong, we need to fix it. But asking certain types of creative people that a little piece of their soul is wrong is akin to asking them to eat shit.

You can’t dress it up. You can’t make it taste better. But you can hide it. It all lies in the art of the Shit Sandwich.

So, how does a sandwich work? You’ve got a slice of bread at the bottom, filling in the middle and another slice of bread on top, right?

In the case of a shit sandwich, you start by saying something nice about the work. For example; “I love the visual treatment…”, “The headline was hilarious…” or “I really admired your punctuality…”

Then, you administer the ‘shit’; “But, it’s been rejected by legals”, “My wife/husband/cat hates it” or “It’s so off brief we sent out a search party.”

The final slice is another affirmation to leave the creative feeling positive about what must happen next; “We’ve managed to extend the deadline so there’s more time for you to come up with something amazing! We’re sure you’ve got it in you.” Etc…

Good news – Bad news – Good news. That’s the Shit Sandwich.

In my experience, it’s the most effective way to get a creative person to happily slice and dice a piece of their soul for you. The method also works really well on pre-school children.

But be warned, administering a good Shit Sandwich takes practice. I’ve seen good clients clumsily rush in with the Open Shit Sandwich (no layer of good news on top) which the creative can see from a mile off and get in a bad mood before you even start talking. Or even worse, the Reverse-Open Shit Sandwich. Which just leaves everyone really confused and with shit on their hands.

There’s no such thing as good, bad feedback. But when you slip it between a couple of slices of something good, it makes it a lot more palatable.

How to brief a creative person ~or~ Making sure you get what you deserve.

Briefs are like design books. Most creative people love receiving them, but they don’t read them much: they flick through them for vague inspiration before running off in the direction their heart/gut tells them to go.

hipster_main22

But don’t let that dissuade you from writing one, because they’re massively important. Not just to guide the creative process, but to also help solidify your own thinking beforehand. Plus, when push comes to shove, it will be the lighthouse everyone looks to when they’ve all (yourself included) lost their way.

There is no ‘one’ perfect way to brief. Every advertising agency has a different template. But there are a few signposts you need to lay down to ensure the end result is right.

First of all, and this is the hardest part of the process, get rid of any preconceived notion of what the end result will look/sound/feel like. Just forget it. It will cloud the way you brief and it will cloud the way you respond to the work.

Step 1: Define what you want to achieve: Are you looking to build awareness? Are you having a sale? Are you launching something new? Whether you’re fulfilling a function or aiming for double-digit growth, put it down on paper and share it.

Step 2: Define the parameters: Who is the target audience? When do you need it by? If you’ve already booked the media, what’s the schedule? What’s your production budget? All these things will be factors that will affect the outcome. If you have the information, it’s best shared with those that need to know from the very start.

Step 3: Set the tone. If you’ve got an established brand this will be a walk in the park. If you’re starting from scratch it’s a process that really needs to take place separately. If you don’t know how your brand speaks to its audience, you really shouldn’t be advertising until you do. Taking the time to create one not only helps focus your communications, but can increase your effectiveness exponentially.

Step 4: Define how you will measure success. Separate from Step 1, this is more about what you want the target audience to think/feel/do once they’ve seen this piece of communication. Is it even measurable? If so, it’s good to set a target for the creative to aim for.

No offence, but this isn’t what success looks like to normal people. 

careerealism-success-wallSuccess-Graph-TransparentSUCCESS-BUILDS-SUCCESS

And despite all this required information, try to keep it short and sweet.

But what about the ‘Unique Selling Point’, or the ‘Single Minded Proposition’? These are ‘nice to haves’ but not essential. Besides, if you’ve got people writing those things for you, you don’t need to learn how to write a brief.

So there you have it. In short, know what you want to achieve, define the parameters, set the tone and define how you’ll measure success.

Start with these steps and an open mind, and your creative suppliers will thank you for it.

Ripping off the brand-aid ~or~ saying goodbye to an old friend.

Shabbadu_logo NEWsmall

I buried an old friend today. Or, if you want me to turn down the melodrama a notch, I signed off a new logo for Shabbadu. While it was an absolutely necessary thing to do,  it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  And here’s why.

1. I liked what we had. 

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I didn’t actually hate what we had before. Mainly, because I created it. Sure, I have no design training or skill, but that didn’t stop me when I was all excited about my new business seven years ago. And it took me ages! Well, ok, it took about 20 minutes. Still, I thought it was unique and special, and it did the job.

2. It’s a big investment.

Rebranding costs a lot of money. And it’s not just designers fees, you change one thing you’ve got to change everything. And you’d better change it all at once too or else. Bah! Too hard. Can’t I just get away with my old tracky dacks, I mean logo, for another few years?

3. I’m not the best judge of art direction/design.

I think the saying is ‘pearls before swine’. Despite my years of experience in advertising, I’ve always been a ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ kind of copywriter. Which is fine when you’ve got a talented, understanding art director by your side, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a) you’ve got to brief the thing in, and b) when you’ve got make a decision at the end of it all.

Basically, I found myself thrust into the role our clients find themselves in more often than not. Suddenly, I had to be making calls on stuff I really didn’t feel qualified to make calls on. At least not with any authority or accuracy. And, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed to be changing anything in the first place. But I was lucky. I had a team around me that I trusted, and my designer provided enough evidence of industry and support to make me feel comfortable with their suggestions.

Emotions aside, the time was right for a new logo for Shabbadu. The business I began seven years ago is worlds away from the one we are today. One of the key differences is I’m saying we, instead of me. Suddenly, it’s not just about what I like. Breathe, Chris. Breathe.

We’ve all been guilty of being hard on clients for umming, ahhing, and rejecting perfectly good work for seemingly no reason. This experience will hopefully colour these situations for me in the future. I’ll be more understanding and appreciate that while we might just think of it as another chance to move the brand forward into a new and exciting future, for our clients it might represent the nadir of an existential crisis where they begin to question all manner of things about their life, past and present.

Still, onwards and upwards.

logo white and red on grey

Extremes and Modifiers ~ or ~ The writer of this post is a moron, according to some.

Politics is hard to follow. In Australia, it’s hard to follow without repeatedly slapping yourself on the forehead. It’s been noted that it’s regressed into a tribal sporting contest, where fans of each side follow their ‘team’ with blind fervor. But when the personalities and policies fail, and we’ve all tuned out to what the politicians say, there can at the very least be education and entertainment in following ‘how’ they say it.

This doesn’t refer Paul Keating tearing strips of the nearest boxhead, desiccated coconut and painted, perfumed gigolo, but more so the empty rhetoric, pre-prepared party lines and obfuscation we’ve become accustomed to.

The 24-hour news cycle and the need for short, sharp political point scoring at every opportunity has given rise to another linguistic art form: the extreme and modifier.

While the extreme and modifier sounds tough and rugged like a ‘thrust and parry’, it’s more like poking your tongue out at a caged bear. You might feel tough while you’re doing it, but ultimately, it’s pointless.

Let’s look at an easy one to begin with. This is a mild example from Bob Carr, speaking about the James Ashby/Peter Slipper affair. Now, you may recall that in the early days of this scandal, the government was doing its best to discredit James Ashby and tentatively stand behind the man they installed as speaker.

“This Ashby seems more rehearsed than a kabuki actor.”

Key word here is ‘seems’. If he had said ‘This Ashby is more rehearsed than a kabuki actor’ he’d clearly have been sued. After all, he seems to be quite the litigious type.

And to prove that neither side of politics is immune to the old E&M, here’s a no brainer from Tony Abbott. He memorably blessed us with this pearler:

“Work Choices, it’s dead, it’s buried, it’s cremated, now and forever…” (iron clad extreme) “…but obviously, I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation.” (rolled gold modifier)

Julia Gillard is a master of pretty much all forms of political rhetoric. So it should come as no surprise that she’s a deft hand at the extreme and modifier. But this example is pure genius:

“A complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister said he’s a crook and rotten to the core…”

This was her description of former AWU union official Ralph Blewitt. Pretty stern stuff. Plenty of slander going on there. Of course, until she added the all important “…according to people who know him.”

All great examples, yet some are subtler than others. But in the race to make a point when your sound bite needs to fit into a tweet, they’re becoming more and more prevalent in everyday poli-speak.

Keep an ear out for a few old favourites like these; “We could be forgiven for thinking…”, “Is behaving like a….”, and “Another example of the kind of reckless behavior this lot are famous for.”

With a good few months to go before the election, tune in whenever you hear a politician speak and see if you can catch them rolling one out. Question Time is rife with them if you can stomach it.

In the meantime, try slipping a few into everyday conversations. Instead of saying you’re tired, you’re ‘partially exhausted’. You’re not a bit light of funds, you’re ‘borderline insolvent’.

It’s fun for the whole working family, according to some.