Monday, September 17

Copywriting Disaster

When the Gnome was a young pup entering the exciting world of the advertising for the first time, he was shown to his desk by a character straight out of Dickens. Tall, thin and with half moon glasses perched upon a beak-like nose, this ghost of copywriters past introduced himself as 'Howard MacMahon esquire' and on arrival at the Gnome's new office, promptly sneered at the computer waiting on the desk by saying 'when I started here all that was on my desk were two pencils and a rubber'.

With the insoucience of youth, the Gnome laughingly suggested this comment immediately confirmed all the rumours he'd heard about girls who work in PR. Howard MacMahon esquire, unmoved to levity by this humourous quip sighed deeply and pointed towards the bookcase adjoining the Gnome's new desk. There, sitting alone on the dusty shelves was a dog-eared yellow paperback, its pages browned from the sunlight seeping across the windowsill.

"This book is Fowler's Modern English Useage. I know you won't read it, nor probably use the wisdom contained within it, but at least you have access to it." And with that he retired from the room to be seen again only rarely, his appearances limited to the impending arrival of a crisis, just like Harry Seldon in the Foundation books.

As it happens the Gnome did read Fowler's, and although he probably doesn't use the wisdom contained within it every day, or in every piece of writing, he has a penchant for its stuffy put-downs for those who mangle the Queen's English.

Which brings us to this advert, presumably written by someone without the unfettered access to Modern English Useage the Gnome so enjoyed in his youth.

Is anything right with it? Let's start at the top.


Why the extra punctuation of the comma? That's just plain wrong. As is the word order... Wouldn't 'see it, report it, stop it' be more appropriate? How can you stop it before you've seen it? And surely there are Health and Safety implications for encouraging passengers to become 'have-a-go heroes' with the suggestion they stop it before reporting it to the authorities?

Violence towards both passengers and members of staff will not be tolerated

Well that's good to know if you are a young hoodie looking for a little recreational violence. So long as you target only one group, be it staff or passengers, tolerance of your actions will be the reward. It's only when you behave thuggishly towards BOTH passengers and staff need you worry. One assumes 'violence towards either passengers or members of staff will not be tolerated' was the intended message, but who can tell?

Help us to stop it. Report it. call British Transport police on....

Surely even the doziest of proofreaders, somnolent at their desk on a Friday afternoon after a long liquid lunch knows that a capital letter is needed to start a new sentence?

Oh how Howard MacMahon esquire, would have shuddered if this advert had left his office. The Gnome can see the old man twirling in his grave now. Perhaps by highlighting this abhorrence to the wider world he will forgive the Gnome the use of the word 'penchant' earlier in the piece. As H.W. Folwer clearly states, and Howard MacMahon esquire would no doubt agree,

"To say penchant for liking or fancy is pretension and nothing else."

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