When Halloween-themed copy goes wrong

‘Pasty’ and ‘scary’ – two words I wouldn’t expect to see in the same sentence. But a well-known bakers’ in-store posters (spotted by the brilliant comedian David Ephgrave) are currently advertising a ‘scary’ chicken madras pasty. What could possibly be frightening about food? Ah…food poisoning. Not convinced they’ve thought this one through.

I honestly believe that, if a theme isn’t at all relevant to the product you’re promoting, it’s best not to use it. Otherwise, it can come across as desperate or downright confusing.

Write to be understood

When writing formal communications, many people favour long or uncommon words, lengthy sentences and lots of detail – possibly in the belief it will make them sound more intelligent or ‘official’. But what effect does this have on the reader?

Here’s an example taken from a sign I spotted recently – note the use of ‘enacted’, ‘adhere’ and ‘utilise’:

“USE OF TOILETS. To help prevent problems with the system always adhere to the following: The cisterns have 2 types of flush, a “short flush” (enacted by pressing the handle down and releasing quickly) and a long flush (requiring the handle to be held down for 5 or 6 seconds). ALWAYS UTILISE THE LONG FLUSH”

Blimey. I think what they’re trying to say is, ‘please hold the handle down for 6 seconds when flushing’.

The problem with writing in the style of the example is that it forces the reader to work too hard. It’s tiring and tedious. And it comes across as pretty unfriendly.

I’m a big fan of writing in plain English. It’s not necessarily about using the shortest word possible; it’s about using the most familiar word, and cutting out the waffle. Writing is, after all, just a means of communicating information from your brain to another’s – the clearer your writing, the more effectively you’ll get your point across.