The cus­tomers always write

In 1983 George Smith was a revered colum­nist for the UK’s high­ly regard­ed Direct Response mag­a­zine. The first of the two arti­cles fea­tured here appeared way back then, short­ly after the movie Char­i­ots of Fire had come out, and was writ­ten as a direct result of one dread­ful client meet­ing. In the inter­ests of bal­ance, SOFII’s edi­tor asked George to pen a sec­ond piece to show that agency types are just as like­ly to indulge in this kind of gib­ber­ish as are mem­bers of the client species. All the bol­lo – vocab­u­lary’, George point­ed out (his phrase, not ours, Ed), comes from the cur­rent issue of a lead­ing mar­ket­ing jour­nal – just in case you thought any of this chal­lenge­able on the grounds of believability.’

Written by
George Smith
June 02, 2010
A meeting of like minds
‘All the bollo–vocabulary’, George pointed out (his phrase, not ours, Ed), ‘comes from the current issue of a leading marketing journal – just in case you thought any of this challengeable on the grounds of believability.’

The customers always write

Scene: The client’s office.

Dramatis Personae:
Lemuel Sweat, a client.
Nigel Luncheon-Voucher MBS, an assistant brand manager.
William Blake, a wild-eyed copy man.

First Draft:

‘And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?’

LS: Like the first draft, Bill, but I'm a bit restless about this first line. ‘And did those feet...’ It’s too negative. Sounds as if we don’t know. I don’t think – and this is a purely personal opinion – that the audience should be left in any doubt. Besides, the question marks are bloody irritating.

NL-V: I agree. And I think we’ve got a problem with the mountains. Scafell’s the biggest and it’s distinctly sub-alpine. Could cause correspondence ...

LS: Yes, Bill, mountains are over the top and I don’t want those Advertising Standards chappies on our backs. Can we make it hills? And I'm not sure about this holy lamb bit. You've really got a thing about lambs, Bill, and they’re a bit controversial, post Falklands. Can we cover ourselves with another word? Cattle?

NL-V: Domestic animals?

LS: Furry jobs?

NL-V: No, too colloquial. I prefer furry quadrupeds.

LS: They’re not really furry, are they?

NL-V: True. How about woolly quadrupeds?

LS: Woolly quadrupeds, then. Fine. I think the same applies to the next line. Too negative again. Let’s say what we mean. The woolly quadrupeds were either seen or they weren’t. There’s no mileage in self-doubt.

NL-V: That came up in the seminar I went to. Roger Millington was very good on self-doubt.

LS: Well, he should know. Anyway, let’s get on with it. Anything on the next line?

NL- V: Yes. Countenance Divine. I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Bill.

LS: Agreed. I can’t see them talking about the Countenance Divine in The Rovers Return, can you, Nigel?

NL- V: No. And that’s where our customer profile is. C2 DE. Sun readers, Bingo players, Arthur Scargill freaks. They’d probably think the Countenance Divine was a pop group (peals of laughter).

LS: What are we trying to do here anyway? We’re trying to say, and this is purely a personal opinion, that Jesus came to this country. Right?

NL-V: Right.

LS: So why the hell aren’t we saying it? We don’t even mention Jesus. Just this Countenance Divine bit. Let’s spell it out for them. Let’s talk about a face if we’re talking about a face. And faces don’t shine. Any alternatives? Rubber-necking?’

LS: Eh?

NL-V: Rubber-necking. Jesus must have come here on a boat. Quinquereme of Nineveh and all that. So he was a tourist. Stonehenge, Verulamium, Glastonbury. All that. Tourists rubber-neck.

LS: Don’t like it. Too downmarket. How about ‘had a good look at our clouded hills?’

NL-V: Glanced at?

LS: Not emotive enough. How about beamed?

NL-V: That’s nice. There’s another prob on this line. We’ve already used hills.

LS: True. Why don’t we call these ones hillocks, just to differentiate them from the green ones earlier.

NL- V: That’s good. Green hills, clouded hillocks. Makes sense. Last bit? I suppose we're stuck with Jerusalem?

LS: Looks like it. But I’m not sure about these satanic mills. In fact, I’ve got reservations about this whole sentence. We’re asking again and we should be telling. Can’t we just spell it out — Jerusalem was builded here.

NL- V: Not really. It wasn't, was it?

LS: No, I suppose the bloody lawyers would jump on it — stupid buggers. But let’s try and be more emphatic about it. Probably. Almost certainly. Something like that. And can we lose the satanic mills? Sounds more Christopher Lee than Charlton Heston. Okay, Bill, I think it’s almost there. But beef it up. More emphatic, more Rovers Return, less Magnus Magnusson...

Second Draft:

‘Perhaps Jesus walked about
Up and down green English hills
Also, we reckon that divine woolly quadrupeds
Were glimpsed in the fields together with other animals.
Then again, His face beamed quite a lot
At the clouded hillocks.
And almost certainly Jerusalem was constructed
Somewhere round these environmentally awful factories.’

LS: Much better, Bill, much better. Love the environmental bit — should catch the kids’ vote. Let’s get on to the second para. I’ve got the same problems really with these chariots of fire. I can’t see people queuing up for chariots of fire, can you, Nigel?

NL- V: No way, no way. (Peals of laughter)

Here’s the promised second piece showing that agency types are just as likely to indulge in this kind of gibberish as are clients.

Scene: The presentation theatre of Silly Wardrobe, an ambient digital marketing agency.

Dramatis personae:
Dave Bollo, agency head of brand dissertation and enhancement.
Kevin Raincoat, client, head of fundraising at Lupine Watch, UK (formerly Save the Wolves).

Dave: So let me summarise. We’re recommending a revised website content management system, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get, you’ll remember) editing with drag and drop, enhanced corporate branding and a nine-cell grid for the Loyalty Ladder.

Kevin: Very interesting, Dave, and I’m sure very up to date, but I think I need persuading that it’s going to help us raise money cost-effectively.

Dave (sulkily): Well, of course, if you want traditional thinking, we can probably find other suppliers in the Yellow Pages...

Kevin: No, we’re interested in data management, believe me, but my trustees insist that we raise money at a ratio of three-to-one.

Dave: And how do you define three-to-one?

Kevin: Raising three times what you’re spending on the process.

Dave: A little simplistic, that seems to me. I really think you should think longer term. The brand needs a higher profile –another name change maybe – you’ve been Lupine Watch for three years now.

Kevin: But our supporters are still getting used to it. Half of them still think of us as Save the Wolves.

Dave: Get rid of them!

Kevin: Eh?

Dave: Get rid of them. They can’t be proper brand guardians if they can’t cope with a name change every few years.

Kevin: But they’re the people who send us money!

Dave: That’s just one index for support. But they should be capable of campaigning on lupine issues, texting the BBC, decrying the new Wolfman film for offering species stereotyping – that sort of thing. And you’ll probably find that they are promiscuous and give money to other charities.

Kevin: Well, of course they do. They’re nice people.

Dave(explosively): Nice! What’s nice when it’s out? Does it enhance deliverability, promote information architecture, migrate content? Does it have a hub? Anyway, how old are these people?

Kevin: Forties, fifties, sixties….

Dave: Oh my God. How can you promote a brand with people who grew up with the Beatles, in the Second World War?

Kevin: But they love wolves. And they’ve given generously in the past….

Dave: Do you share your KPIs with them?

Kevin: What?

Dave: Are your CIOs and CMOs working together to develop a marketing technology architecture?

Kevin: What?

Dave: Kevin, I have to tell you that we at Silly Wardrobe don’t seem to share a language with you.

Kevin: Too bleedin’ right, mate. Where’s that Yellow Pages?


About the author: George Smith

George Smith

The late George Smith (he/him) wrote his first fundraising ad for Oxfam in 1962. In his twenties he was appointed European coordinator for a major-league American advertising agency and, in contrast, was elected as a local councillor in an inner-London borough. He formed the Smith Bundy direct marketing agency in 1973 and served as chief executive for 20 years. During those two decades his copywriting skills were applied to many diverse commercial direct marketing clients, yet fundraising was always a specialism. In 1990 he was awarded the UK’s DMA Gold Award for work on Greenpeace.

Between 1987 and 1993 George was chief executive of the International Fund Raising Group, responsible for the celebrated Noordwijkerhout conference and a growing number of events around the world. He was also a director of Burnett Associates Limited. His monthly articles in Britain’s Direct Response magazine were published in 1987 as a collection called By George. He became chairman of the UK’s Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) in 1997 and is an honorary fellow both of the IDM and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

George Smith also wrote Asking ProperlyTiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising and Up Smith Creek.

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