Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution for 2009: Shun these banished words

Have you ever been outed as a big-L LOSER because you just used a catch phrase that was popular, oh, seven minutes ago, but now is as passe as a Sarah Palin joke? The offending words hang in the air like a bad smell. Your cheeks and ears burn, and you wonder whether to pretend nothing's happened or sprint for the nearest exit.

I exaggerate the horror of being out of the loop, of course, but just to be safe from social embarrassment, take note of the following words -- and even an emoticon -- that have been officially banished from cooldom. Shun them, and you may avoid being behind the curve. Or is "behind the curve" one of the banished terms, too?

"Green," "Maverick" make list of "Banished Words" for 2009
Wired - 12/31/08 - by John Scott Lewinski

Back in November, researchers at the University of Oxford fired the first shot against tired language with the release of a well-debated list -- The Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases.

Now, Lake Superior State (in chilly Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan -- pronounced "Soo Saint") is continuing the allied assault with its 2009 List of Banished Words.

[Read more.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mayor Kassab, tear down these billboards!

Visual pollution can be as annoying and upsetting as any other form of pollution. And it can obscure the best features of a metropolis. So two years ago, Sao Paulo, Brazil Mayor Gilberto Kassab ordered that most outdoor advertising be taken down in the city.

Billboards, posters, tacky store signs, street banners, electronic ads, all were taken down. The result? According to the mayor, "The first thing that happened was that people felt a great sense of relief." But obviously, not the producers of all that advertising.

When a city's beauty is concealed behind advertising messages, can you really know the city? Perhaps not. But banning public advertising would seem to most Americans an impediment to First Amendment free speech and the ability to do business. Read the article and decide for yourself what's best for Sao Paulo -- or your city.
Sao Paulo Sells Itself.
Time - December 1, 2008
By Andrew Downie/Sao Paulo

In banning most outdoor advertising, the city reveals its charms and its governability.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thought for Today

"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is trying desperately night and day, to make you like everyone else, is to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Immense Benefit," the man says...

I thought the Nigerian scammers were flushed out of the system, but apparently a few are still out there making up inventive stories to touch your heart and your bank account. I received this today. Please note the ridiculous language, especially for an "attorney based in Scotland United Kingdom." Named "Kirk Murdoch," yet! Somebody call the scam cops!
Dear Friend,

I wish to approach you with a request that would be of immense benefit to both of us. I am an attorney based in Scotland United Kingdom. I want you and I to make some fortune out of a situation that I am obviously left with no other better option. The issue that I am presenting to you is a case of my client that willed a fortune to his only daughter. It is unfortunate that he and his daughter died on the London Bomb attacks on 7 July 2005. The wife died of heart attack on receiving the sad news a week after. I am now faced with a problem of getting a trusted person who I will make the beneficiary that I would pass the fortune to. And according to the law such fortune is supposed to be bequeathed to the government if there is not any relatives or next-of-kin of the decease that would surface for claim of the fortune.

However, I personally don’t belong to such school of thought that proposes that such fortune be given to the government because this is cheating and is possible that the top government officials for their own selfish interest could divert the fortune. Because of this I am contacting you to seek your acting as the beneficiary of the will. I am my client attorney and I alone knew about his will. Upon indication of your interests, all I will do is to amend the will by fitting in your name as the supposed next-of-kin and back it up with a sworn affidavit, which automatically became valid. This amendment should be between us and must not leak out to anyone. It is absolutely confidential.

I have complete information of his bank account details with an outstanding balance of $48,550,000.00USD ($48.550 Million USD). To make you be sure of this, I can provide you with details of his bank to enable you to log on to his account to confirm this balance. I know that you would be apprehensive and feel that this is a big sum, but it does not matter because this is a legacy being passed on to a next-of-kin and you are the available next-of-kin.

As I am not very sure of getting your consent yet on the issue, I prefer not to divulge my full identity so as not to risk being disbarred. Until I am sure of your consent and full cooperation then I will not be afraid to give you my full identity. In the meanwhile, I would prefer that we maintain correspondence by email and fax. At this point I want to assure you that your true consent, full cooperation and confidentiality are all that are required to enable us to take full advantage of this golden opportunity.

I shall make representation to the legal courts to facilitate the amendment process within three working days. Since this is a transaction of immense benefit to both of us, I would want that we shared all expenses according to our agreed sharing ratio of the fortune. The sharing ratio shall be 60% for me and 40% for you. This shall also be applicable to all expenditures that would be incurred in the course of the transaction because I wouldn’t want either of us to feel cheated. Please note that this is a legal and risk free transaction that does not in anyway hamper the monetary laws of your country. It is an inheritance fund.

If you are interested to work with me, please provide me with your name, address, nationality, age, and date of birth, height, and phone and fax numbers as required for the amendment of the will. On completion of this, I will send you a copy of the amended will which you will fax to the bank with a back up letter written by your good self requesting for the release of the fund to you. I will also write to the bank as the legal representative of my client before his demise, ordering for the transfer of the fund to you, as the beneficiary of his will.

I will appreciate your urgent response in this regard. Thanks for your anticipated cooperation.

Yours faithfully,


Monday, December 1, 2008

Today's Grammar Gripes

You've heard it said many times, many ways -- no, not "Merry Christmas" -- but "English is a living language, always changing with the times."

I vote "NO!" With one disclaimer. I do not believe we should still be speaking The Bard's English. All those "doths" and "dosts" can cramp a person's style. But I do believe that we should try to protect the current form of our language from assault and battery.

One would think newscasters, whether on TV or on the radio, would be paragons of proper English, but regrettably, they are not.

Here's one gripe: One announcer seizes on a quirky pronunciation, and before long, they're all using it. For instance, take "divisive." It means, roughly, "tending to divide." Nobody says "dividd," do they? So why, particularly during the national campaigns, did we hear so much of things being "di-VISS-ive?" Webster's dictionary never heard of this pronunciation.

Here are three more offenses, all heard on the local news:

Snuck - Yuck. Even an NPR reporter was guilty of this Mortimer Snerd word. The past tense of "sneak" is "sneaked."

Busted - As in "Windows were busted out..." Doesn't "broken" sound better, and more accurate? "Busted" means, in popular usage, "caught red-handed," or "taken to the pokey."

Hung - As in "The criminal was hung at dawn." Well, "hung" in the vernacular means he was well-endowed in the manly parts department. So I suppose that criminal was hung at dawn, at noon and at sundown, too. However, if he was executed via hanging, then he was "hanged."

If you have pet English usage gripes, let me know. Otherwise, I imagine I'll hear more on TV or radio ere long. Hang loose(ly).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Don't call me "senior," you little geek.

Marketers who use the wrong terminology or approach with people over age 40 risk alienating the very demographic group that has disposable income to spend on their products. The term "Boomer" is okay, for the huge group of us born between 1946 and 1964. It simply means we are part of the "pig in the python" post-WWII baby boom. But not "senior" or "mature." However, for people born before 1945, those terms are acceptable.

For those who are advertising to Boomers and other "experienced" adults, here are some "Marketing Insights" from Su Bacon, recently published in the KC Star:
• Boomers (Born 1946-1964):

• Tend to visit Web sites
• May be looking on the Internet not only for products and services for themselves but also for their aging parents
• Value youth and independence
• Prefer choices in products and services
• May make shopping a destination trip
• Recognize and resent "mature," "prime" and other age references

Notes for marketers: Emphasize wellness, health and active lifestyles. Resist references to age such as "senior" or "older" adults -- "boomer" is OK. Consider a broader geographic reach.

The Silent Generation (Born 1945 or earlier):

• Tend to prefer a more traditional, personal approach
• Value trust and structure
• May be concerned about transportation issues
• Tend to shop where they live

Notes for marketers: Establish relationships and credibility with those they trust such as bank officers, financial planners, their children and grandchildren. Emphasize the vital role they plan in their communities and families. The "senior" label is OK, especially when accompanied by the word "discount." References to retirement are acceptable, too. Reach them with direct mail.

What is Art?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advertising that misses the mark

If you are over 40, you may be puzzled by some of the advertising you see on TV. Crude humor, dizzying digital effects, music that makes you dive for the "mute" button ... Who are these ads aimed at? Well, not you or me. These commercials are created by 20-something ad agency creatives. They don't get how to communicate with any generation but their own. Little geeks.

If you are over 40 and a "Daily Show" fan, you see a lot of ad messages aimed at teens. Like ads for violent video games where players steal cars and AK-47s, shoot, stab or run over each other with big SUVs, and generally stomp evilly around a dark, sinister cityscape. Heck, you can play that game for free by visiting certain East Kansas City neighborhoods.

What do advertisers think I want with a fast-food quadruple bypass burger with cheese, bacon, butter, lard, goose fat and any other artery-clogging ingredients the company can think of? The chief consumers of these gastronomical monstrosities are dietetically illiterate male teens and 20-somethings.

On the other end of the scale, am I the only person under age 60 who watches the network news? Between Charlie Gibson's reports, I'm tortured by intelligence-insulting "slice of life" commercials for hemorrhoid creams, anti-gas tablets, constipation cures, heart medicines, diabetes blood sugar thingies, and Viagra (Sure, I believe a group of "guys" sitting around singing about an erectile dysfunction medicine.). Hey, the news is bad enough. Just leave me alone if you want to talk about your personal physical dysfunctions.

So the net of it is, in the world of advertising, you're either under 40 or over 60. Or if you are between those two ages, you are a candidate for investment services, online trading, insurance and cruise vacations. What if you're between 40 and 60 and don't have a pot to pee in? Well, for you, there's Walmart. And hey, you can probably buy a pot there, cheap.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bailey the Unknown Reindeer

How to have a heckuva good time in the deep snow. With cool vocal by Harry Connick, Jr.

"Meh" - Simpsonese for "boring"

"Meh" enters the Collins English Dictionary

The word, "meh," coined by a couple of bored Simpson kids, has entered the common language and the Collins English Dictionary. The boring word has even migrated from the U.S. to the U.K.

The origins of "meh" are murky, but the term grew in popularity after being used in a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer suggests a day trip to his children Bart and Lisa. "They both just reply 'meh' and keep watching TV," said Cormac McKeown, head of content at Collins Dictionaries.

The dictionary defines "meh" as an expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Examples given by the dictionary include "the Canadian election was so meh."
[Read more.]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blue Man Group Starts Blue School in NYC

The guys with the blue heads have opened a grade school.

One of the most joyful, creative, fun and memorable experiences you can have in Manhattan is the Blue Man Group's show. Silly, thoughtful, absurd, intellectual, surprising, participatory, all of those adjectives apply. But most of all, the word, "creative," pops into mind. To have such untrammeled creativity... what would it be like? I wonder. Well, at least I got the t-shirt.

Most of us creatives are supposed to work within a snug box defined by a client's sensibilities, intelligence, risk aversion, and budget -- not to mention the "input" of a slew of other "stakeholders." Anybody who's done "creative" work for a large corporation can relate.

But Blue Man Group is like the free child we were at age 2, 3 or 4. No boxes for us. Experimental, delighting in discoveries of new colors, shapes and sounds. We explored all of that, and ways that physical objects act when you do THIS to them -- or THAT. Like a toddler pushing his Sippy Cup off the table 20,000 times and making Mom fetch it -- or squishing his rice cereal out the sides of his mouth and giggling as it drips off his chin.

It's only natural, in a way, that Blue Man Group should start a school to encourage kids to indulge in what the grown-ups call "silliness." Guess what? That silliness is the way we started learning to be fully, creatively human. Remember? That was before public schools sat us in rows, made us raise one finger or two to go to the potty, and discouraged us from "discovering" anything the teacher didn't present to us. "Hey, that piece of snot from my nose looks pretty funny on that other kid's head." "Johnny, it's time-out for you." "Awwww..."

If I had $27,000+ per year to send my pre-schooler to Blue School, I'd do it in a New York minute, as they say. Read all about it here. And if you want to see a video from the Blue School, go here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla: Dick Cavett Blog

Dick Cavett is, by far, the most literate person ever to host a talk show. He's heard a lot of talk in his time -- you'd think he'd heard it all during eight years of interviews -- yet the talk of Sarah Palin has him baffled. He's not alone in his bafflement ...


I’d love to hear what you think has caused such an alarming number of our fellow Americans to fall into the Sarah Swoon.

Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult? (And yet…and yet…we did elect Obama. Surely not despite his brains.)
[Read article.]

Friday, November 14, 2008

AIG's Sullivan: New Poster Boy for Excessive Pay

You thought AIG's expensive junkets for top sales and executive types at exclusive resorts were shocking. A mere few hundred thousand bucks is nothing compared to the salary of the CEO. Read this article and weep -- at what all those millions could be buying besides more Bentleys for the captain of AIG's sinking ship.
Meet the new poster boy for excessive CEO pay. He is ousted American International Group CEO Martin Sullivan.

Sullivan was kicked out of office this week after shareholders and investors complained that the insurance and financial giant posted two quarters of gigantic losses. According to figures from The Corporate Library, Sullivan’s payout package is worth $68 million, despite his less-than stellar performance.
[Read more.]

Starbucks' Spin Cycle Broken

When I heard Howard Schultz's upbeat forecast for his upscale coffee joints, I had a few doubts. In a sour economy, who wants to pay $4.00 for a cup of fancy (bitter, in my opinion) coffee? So here's an article from "The Corner Office," a blog that is "Taking on the big questions facing CEOs, boards, and shareholders." Steve Tobak, the author, makes sense in this article. Credibility is vital for any company. You can fool some of the people some of the cetera.
Why CEOs Shouldn't Put Positive Spin on Bad News

The media metaphors were flying after Starbucks’ latest quarterly announcement:

“Starbucks Cools Way Off”

“Starbucks Losing Its Buzz”

“Starbucks’ Bitter Results”

And yet, in the obligatory press release, CEO Howard Schultz put a positive spin on what was unequivocally a horrendous quarter. The big question, of course, is should he have done that or not? Let’s first take a look at his quotes from the release:

“With a re-architected cost structure at the close of fiscal 2008, we began the new fiscal year with a healthier store portfolio that will allow for operating margin expansion,” commented Howard Schultz, chairman, president and ceo. “Despite a global economic environment which shows no immediate signs of improvement, the steps we took in FY08 position us to deliver EPS growth in FY09.”

Schultz continued, “We appear to be more resilient than many other premium brands. And while we cannot call isolated signs of improving sales a trend, we are encouraged by our ability to drive increased traffic at a relatively low cost, as we did on Election Day. As we head into the holiday season and Calendar ‘09, consumers are looking for value and we’ve been pleased with the steady progress of our Starbucks Rewards program and the enthusiastic reception to the Starbucks Gold Card. I am optimistic we are well positioned to weather this challenging economic environment.”

While I applaud most of Schultz’s efforts, the last line of both paragraphs seems a bit over-the-top. I’m not sure any retail companies should be optimistic that they’re well positioned to weather this economic environment, let alone one that’s several quarters into an attempted turnaround.

In contrast, Fortune editor at large Patricia Sellers had this to say in her post “Starbucks’ Schultz needs to get real:”

“Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz needs less optimism and a stronger dose of reality in his brew.”

“The entrepreneurial optimism and clever marketing that Schultz used to create one of the world’s best brands now seems to be interfering with Starbucks’ turnaround.”

Investors didn’t seem to agree with Schultz’s optimism, driving down Starbucks’ already depressed shares another ten percent.

As a former marketing executive with more than his share of communications experience, I take a decidedly pragmatic view of positioning, messaging and spin. Of course, company and product positioning should be positive, but only if it meets these five criteria:

  • It must be true, omissions notwithstanding
  • It must be straightforward and crisp
  • It must be ethically unchallengeable
  • It must be credible, which means that big elephants in the room should be dealt with in a proactive manner or it won’t pass the laugh test
  • It can’t come back to haunt you later

Just to be clear, I don’t hold morals and ethics above business success. Rather, I consider them necessary for business success. In my experience, if positioning doesn’t meet these criteria, there is a high probability of it backfiring and actually harming the company’s brand.

Most executives have a relatively straightforward time with the first three criteria, but it’s the last two that trip them up.

In the case of Starbucks’ announcement, I think Schultz could have dealt more effectively with the elephant in the room – namely a prolonged and challenging turnaround during a brutal market climate. And because he didn’t, it might come back to haunt him later, depending on Starbucks’ performance in subsequent quarters. My tone would have been more on the neutral side, but that’s just me. What do you think?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Do you feel religious about Coca-Cola? If you're one of 2,000 subjects whose brain activity was observed via MRI in a recent Martin Lindstrom study, it sure looks as though you do.

Turns out the brain lights up the same way in response to powerful brands as it does to religious icons. So does that mean we'll soon be seeing St. Luke's Aspirin? Or Pope Benedict's Pasteurized Imitation Cheese Food Product? Or packages shaped like the Virgin Mary? Probably not, since it's hard to imagine how these findings will be useful to advertisers.

But there are a few results that either confirm or refute industry knowledge:

• Product placement in TV programs or movies is ineffective, unless the product is an integral part of the story.

• Cigarette warning labels encourage smokers to smoke more.

• Subliminal advertising is still used. Use ear plugs when you visit department stores.

• Sex usually doesn't sell products. But controversy about sexy ads does.

Nice to know... How about an ad campaign featuring Pope Benedict in a thong?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Christians Mad as Hell over Humanist Ad Campaign

There is a growing number of atheists, agnostics and just plain ol' non-theists and people of non-Christian religions who do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

So why not be good for goodness' sake? That's the point of the American Humanist Association's ad campaign, which will run via Washington, DC bus cards throughout December. The campaign plays on the words from the familiar song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," which, unless Santa himself has become a religious symbol, can hardly offend any rational person. But you can count on Bill O'Reilly (aka Bill-O the Clown, for you Keith Olbermann fans) to take umbrage over the terrible "War on Christmas" throughout December.

Almost makes me want to tune in, just to see Bill-O's face turn red and green.

Inscrutable Korean Air

A few days ago, this new Korean Air ad debuted in Time. The headline says:

"From departure to arrival, the world is a step closer with Korean Air."

Huh? However, if you read the tiny body copy, you learn that Korean Air's "fast and convenient global network serves you anywhere around the world in style."

Okay. But what in the world is this fantastically stylish winged creature? The Little Mermaid of the airways? A San Francisco Gay Pride Parade queen? Beats me.

This ad relies heavily on the abhorrent "borrowed interest." Meaning it uses a gimmick unrelated to the product benefit to reel in the reader. I'll probably never fly Korean Air, but gee, I'd sure like to know where that lady got that swell ball gown.

Sarah Palin probably could have gotten one of those courtesy of the RNC. But now, of course, she'd have to give it back. If she could find it. You know, "the kids lose underwear," she said. I wonder, what is the RNC going to do with all those duds Wasilla's winking wench purchased at Saks and Nieman-Marcus on their American Express card? Wouldn't you love to see Dick Cheney in that little Korean Air number? As he's marched off to an international war crimes tribunal?

Earlier, I wrote about Korean Air's inscrutable TV spot. I finally found the video on YouTube. It doesn't work as advertising, and the video doesn't work at all on the Korean Air site. Duh. (Make you wonder about their planes?) Anyway, here it is:

From an August news release about the campaign: “The ads create a tantalizing undercurrent. They’re quite flirtatious and a real departure from anything we have ever done. They have a retail sense to them. Our new commercials definitely showcase the absolute beauty of our mantra, Excellence in Flight”...

The agency is LG Advertising, Seoul.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Do you "we" on potential customers?

Ever been on a blind date with someone who chatters incessantly about himself or herself, never bothering to ask a question about YOU? As the unrelenting drone of "blah-blah-blah-me-me-me" anesthetizes your brain, you plot to escape out the bathroom window. You wonder if your date would notice.

It's amazing, but some advertisers act like that boorish blind date, using advertising communications that "we" on their prospects. In other words, they unintentionally turn off potential customers by focusing exclusively on themselves. For example:

"Here at Acme Corporation, Inc., the Midwest's largest widget manufacturing company, we produce 3.2 million widgets daily, and we ship them to more than 2,300 major customers across the nation with our fleet of 250 tractor-trailers.

"We have won more than 40 "Widgie"® awards from the Widget Association of America (WAA) for excellent safety records in our state-of-the-art production facility."

As a potential widget customer, all I hear is "we-we-we." What about "me-me-me?"

I'll do business with a company that offers me ways to solve a problem, save money, or find a better way to get something done -- not a company that just crows about how great they are. I'm thinking of buying widgets from Apogee Corporation. Their brochure says:

"You have a problem: leaky dolyflappers. We have the solution: Apogee customized widgets.

"Wouldn't it be great if you could eliminate the safety hazard of dolyflapper leaks on your plant floor and the time and labor costs of cleaning them up? Now you can, with Apogee customized widgets.

"Customers told us their number one headache is leaking dolyflappers. Those leaks occur because most widgets are manufactured to such wide tolerances that they can't possibly prevent leaks in every application. But Apogee widgets can, because they are custom-manufactured to your dolyflapper specifications. . . ."

As a potential customer, I think, "Hey. Leaking dolyflappers IS my biggest headache! These folks really know my business! I'm calling Apogee!"

To reach new customers, communicate using less "we" and more "you." Be interested in learning about potential customers' challenges. Develop a dialogue with them, as you would with a fascinating blind date. Find a way to meet their challenges, and tell them about it in a compelling way. Now, that could be the start of something big!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Korean Air: Zombies in space?

A jet plane is something that gets you quickly from one part of the world to another, preferably on time and without too much inconvenience or discomfort. Along the way, you may get some beverages ($$), a pillow ($), and a blanket ($). What you don't get or expect, I would imagine, is high-fashion models and cabin attendants. So maybe I'm dense, but I don't get Korean Air's current TV campaign.

It's black and white, except for certain details which are rendered in washed-out turquoise. For instance, part of the high-fashion outfit of a model twirling on the runway; pieces of the uniform of (what I assume is) a Korean Air cabin attendant looking off to one side and shown diagonally in slo-mo, as if she's tripping; and, of course, the logo. Some words appear on the screen from time to time, seemingly unrelated to the visuals. Inscrutable.

You can see similar images on their website here. But the part of the site where you can "experience" their TV commercials doesn't work. A bad omen for your Korean Air travel experience.

Down to practical matters. If I had to guess, I would say this commercial is aimed at a very specific (microscopic) target audience: female fashionistas who are traveling from the U.S. to South Korea. Or, and this just occurred to me (I'm pretty dense sometimes): perhaps it's aimed at male sex tourists anticipating an aperitif of sensuality to get them in the mood for what awaits them in Seoul. Aaaargh. If that's it, I don't want to know.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Starbucks' Big Mushy Hit: Oatmeal?

Who knew a homely menu entry like oatmeal would win the hearts of Starbucks customers? Is it because as our 401(k)s get thinner and thinner, we're starving for the comfiest of comfort foods? Something warm, sweet, easy to digest, and soothing to our nervous tum-tums?

Does it remind us of home? Of Grandma? The good old days before 9/11 and global economic collapse? Perhaps. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all need a little love these days, even if it comes in a cardboard cup with a plastic spoon.

But isn't several dollars a bit much to pay for a big dollop of piping-hot good feeling? It takes virtually no time to make quick oatmeal or instant oatmeal at home for a lot less. Only Grandma never made quick or instant oatmeal. And something about making it for yourself takes away that pampered, cared-for feeling. So as odd as it sounds, oatmeal at Starbucks may be a truly brilliant idea, one that can save Starbucks' bacon, so to speak.

Wonder what Starbucks' next big comfort-food hit will be. Meat loaf and mashed potatoes? Mmm.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Protect yourself against "clickjacking"

There's a new way for Web baddies to get control of your computer. Apparently, so simple a child could do the code.

Clickjacking has been identified as a vulnerability for the Adobe Flash player, as well as for every major browser, including Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari and even the newly released Google Chrome.

"It is a very serious problem," said Giorgio Maone, the author of a widely praised free Firefox extension called NoScript, which blocks potentially malicious scripts from running in the Firefox browser.

So don't hesitate. Download NoScript now. It's free, and it could save you a whole heap o' trouble.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Please don't write your own copy

Successful business owners, particularly entrepreneurs, are amazing people. They fight the odds to get financing, get a business up on its feet and make a success of it. A business goes from nothing to something big by the sweat of the owner's brow.

Yes, these business owners are courageous, tough, capable and determined, and they can do almost anything they set their minds to. Note that I said, "almost."

Having just finished reading an advertorial supplement featuring local small businesses, I have learned interesting facts about some companies I didn't know existed. I also have learned that a few of their owners could use help from someone who knows their way around a sentence.

There is a rhythm and music to well-written prose, and the rules of English are intended to make your sentences sing on-beat and in tune. However, many brilliant and creative people have stored those rules in the basements of their brains, behind the unused exercycle and Great-Aunt Ellie's company china. As a consequence, their prose sounds more like a high school musical than a Broadway blockbuster.

In the advertorial supplement, one company's piece was a minefield of grammatical, usage and punctuation goofs. Not to mention one very weirdly structured sentence, a diagram of which would look like the zig-zag path "Billy" in "Family Circus" takes on the way home. Billy always makes it to his own back door in the end, but some of this advertiser's sentences veered off the path and became irretrievably lost in the woods.

Awkward sentence structure is a common pitfall for amateur writers. But improper punctuation comes in a close second, for example, being too generous or too miserly with commas. The phrase, "big black Labrador dog," doesn't require commas to clarify its meaning, ala "big, black, Labrador, dog." If you substitute the word "and" for the commas, and it sounds silly, you don't need the commas. Say, "big and black and Labrador and dog," and then delete the superfluous commas.

But you do need commas in a sentence like, "There ahead of the Jeep just a hundred feet away he saw a rhino and he was scared out of his wits." (Hemingway would have made that two short sentences, but that's another subject.) You need commas after "There," "away," and "rhino." The last one is needed because "and he was..." is an independent clause. The test for an independent clause is to substitute a period for the "and" and see if the following phrase is a complete sentence. This one is. The previous two commas are needed for clarity. I'm too lazy to look up the technical reason. Please, just trust me on this.

It isn't easy to remember all those picky, sometimes arbitrary-seeming rules of grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage. The good news is that you don't need to. Because some of us have heads full of that kind of stuff, and we can put it to use writing your copy. You've got better things to do, like run your business. Save yourself time and energy, and improve your company's image by hiring a professional copywriter -- me, for instance -- to write your ads and other communications for you. So your company will sound as smart as you are.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sarah Palin can't talk good.

Professor Henry Higgins' judgment of women in general in "My Fair Lady" was curmudgeonly and unfair. But it does seem true of Sarah Palin in particular: "[Sarah is] irrational, that's all there is to that. [Her head is] full of cotton, hay and rags." And maybe a little moose stew to boot. Even Republicans seem to realize McCain chose a bimbo as his running mate, now that it's too late to kick her off the ticket.

I contend that a person who can't construct a decent sentence can't frame a rational thought, either. Sarah Palin speaks English the way a salad shooter fires out sliced vegetables: quickly and indiscriminately. We have cringed for eight years over Shrub's mangled English. We don't need more word salad in the Executive branch (Yes, Sarah, the VP IS part of the Executive branch. I don't care what Dick Cheney told you.).

In the following Slate article, a brave diagrammer takes on Sarah Palin's "sentence constructions." Be sure to drop breadcrumbs as you venture into the dense underbrush of her verbiage. If you get lost, follow the crumbs back to the beginning of the sentence and try again.

Sarah's tongue-tiedness is all the more amazing since all of her answers were scripted on notecards. Apparently, she doesn't read well, either!

The sentences of Sarah Palin, diagrammed

Can Sarah Palin's sentences stand up to a grammarian?
By Kitty Burns Florey
Slate Magazine - Updated October 1, 2008


So let's take a crack at a few of Palin's doozies. From the Katie Couric interview:

It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?

A diagrammer doesn't care about who "they" are in that last stuttered question or fuss over the problem of the head-rearing Putin coming into our "air space." A diagrammer simply diagrams. I didn't have a clue about what to do with the question that ends it. Otherwise, in its mice chase cats way, the sentence is perfectly diagrammable.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Badvertising for Jim Slattery

If I were a political candidate, I would not want my name associated with a lot of bare asses. But what do I know? I'm just an average viewer who, upon seeing Jim Slattery's TV spot for the first time, said, "EEEeeew."

The spot features rear views of a number of people going about their daily activities dressed in hospital gowns that are ... revealing of certain areas of the body we usually like to keep secret from others, aside from our loved ones. The idea being that Sen. Pat Roberts, our current representative in Washington, has left Kansas "uncovered" by health care. OK, I get it. But how come these people aren't even trying to cover their derrieres? Are they unaware their asses are blowing in the wind?

Jim said the other night that the new spot would "get some attention." But boy, howdy. Is it the right sort of attention? I don't think so.

To be clear, I am FOR Slattery. Pat Roberts has done a lot of harm during his tenure as U.S. Senator from Kansas. And in my opinion, if anybody should be associated with asses, it's Pat Roberts. But this spot is not going to help get rid of him. Unfortunately.

Everybody wants to get into the act!

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