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.


David Meerman Scott said...

This is world-class, cutting-edge gobbledygook. Yuk.

Nick said...


So what would you have written instead. I have to say it is easy to criticise but can you do better?


Stephen Downes said...

Thanks, Nick. I've actually found that it's NOT at all easy to criticise problems with grammar, clarity and structure, because you are asking to have your head kicked. Many marcoms people - despite positioning themselves as communication professionals - are remarkably defensive or outright antagonistic when criticised on basic professional standards in areas such as grammar, clarity of meaning and sentence and paragraph structure. They frequently cry about pedantry and claim that these things don't matter, or else they slink off and correct things without ever acknowledging they were wrong.

This sort of ungrammatical, waffling, ill-conceived and overblown stuff is unworthy of professional communicators and the Country Road brand... or any brand, I would argue.

I'm not about to re-write Country Road's corporate comms here and now, especially not without a clear brief (and an agreed fee).
If Country Road's corporate affairs person or agency or freelancer or whoever wrote this wants some copywriting lessons, help with editing, or mentoring, then I'm happy to do so - on a commercial basis (as this is one of the services I offer).

As for "can you do better?", I am happy to stand on my record: the pieces on this blog, two years of articles in Crikey.com.au and a two-decade portfolio of above- and below-the-line copywriting.

Victor said...

@Nick - with copy like that, it is indeed easy to criticise. Very easy.

Amusingly atrocious.

Alex of Melbourne said...

At least we now know where John Howard's speech writers have gone.

Anonymous said...

Truly apalling english and bad communications. I have mind you worked in situations where an arguement for elss than perfect english could be made, but this is not one of them. Native-english audience, native-english writer. Simple equation. FAIL.