27 August 2009

Country Road: More long copy failure at the highest level

As I've mentioned on this blog several times before, I am increasingly distressed by the declining quality of long copy in ads and brochures... and by the inability of those who supervise writers and sign off copy to detect glaringly obvious problems with grammar and clarity.

I have learned to expect poor writing in things like local tourism brochures, but I'm still gobsmacked to see it at the very highest level.

And arguably there is no higher level in Australian corporate communications than the Annual Report of an ASX-listed company like fashion/lifestyle retailer Country Road.

The picture above shows the key scene-setting page in the 2008 Country Road Annual Report.

Here are the first two sentences:
The Australian way of life is unique and highly desirable. It is a country that is both incredibly old but very new.

But just in case you're having trouble seeing what's wrong, let's dissect it.

Nothing wrong with the first sentence:
The Australian way of life is unique and highly desirable.
It's a simple sentence, with "The Australian way of life" as the subject. Now let's look at the second sentence. In context, the first word "It" unequivocally indicates the same subject as the first sentence, i.e. "The Australian way of life". But the rest of the sentence is now talking about a different subject. "The Australian way of life" is NOT a "country".

And there's something else horribly wrong with the second sentence. Whether we're talking about a country or a way of life, it can't be "both (something) but (something else)".

When you use "both", you must use "and":
The bathroom has both hot and cold running water.
Both John and Betty went to school.

Sentence 3 continues on about the country (presumably Australia, although it never says so): its light, landscape and colour. Then sentence 4 introduces the lifestyle of the country. All right, but didn't we start out talking about "the Australian way of life"? So are the "way of life" and the "lifestyle" the same thing or different concepts?

In sentence 5, the compound adjective "free-spirited" needs a hyphen. And by sentence 6, the subject switches away from Australia the country to "this modern Australian lifestyle".

What self-indulgent crap on the part of the agency responsible. If you're going to wax lyrical, you must be able to write grammatically or the effect is completely undermined and, with it, the client's credibility.

And shame on Country Road's corporate affairs and investor relations team for signing it off. What a shocking way to begin a piece that is intended to be the pinnacle of the company's communication with the market and its shareholders.

Let's hope their clothing isn't so poorly made.

18 August 2009

For the Lexus hybrid, economy and quality should begin with the brochure

Last weekend, I picked up a 38-page brochure for the Lexus RX line of "luxury SUV" motor vehicles - the RX350 and the RX450h, the only luxury SUV with a hybrid petrol/electric engine.

That's an awful lot of brochure for just two models and variants. OK, it's printed on "green" paper, but it sure does use a lot of it.

As you'd expect, the brochure has lots of lovely pictures of shiny Lexuses (Lexi?).

But the brochure's worst excesses can be found in its overblown, amateurish long copy. It tries way too hard, to the point of being nauseating:
The first luxury SUV opened the way to new lifestyle opportunities...
Being socially responsible never felt so remarkable
In doing so, Lexus has created a new relevance...
On steep climbs, the relentless torque lifts you effortlessly from deep valleys to the crests of the hills...
Unfortunately the copy is far from effortless. But it is relentless.

Far worse than the over-inflated (and often meaningless) prose is the grammar. Or rather, the lack of it. Try these:
To look at the RX450h, it gives little away that this is a vehicle that is...
Unlike certain hybrids which are optimised purely for economy, Lexus Hybrid Power achieves both.
"Both"? Both of what?

It's bad enough that the copywriter at (I believe) Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney has been allowed to indulge him- or herself at the expense of efficient and effective communication. But it's absolutely appalling that no-one has stepped in and corrected the grammatical howlers that flow directly from those indulgences.

The father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy, famously sold the original luxury car brand, Rolls-Royce, to Americans using understatement. The ad that carried his most celebrated headline is a masterpiece of letting the facts speak for themselves and the target's imagination and emotions fill in the rest:
At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.
You'd think young copywriters would be brought up to speed on this example before being let loose on a luxury car account.