Everybody's Doing It, Why Not You?

If you've stepped outside since October, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

What that actually means to you is as various as people in general. It could mean dragging plastic trees around the house; spending up big and forgetting it until your statement arrives; or you could be of a faith that only observes this bizarre ritual at a distance.

The language of Christmas - and likewise the language of anti-consumerist sentiments in opposition to it - are quite similar. They both try to persuade people into adopting a tradition that only dates back a couple of generations. Christmas as the gift-swapping, Turkey-engorged ritual we observe every 25th of December is as "made up" as Halloween; though detractors of the former will happily embrace the latter.

Many "traditions" are what we'd refer to today as "viral marketing campaigns"; the DeBeers diamond cartel insisting men save up at least 'three months salary' to buy their fiance an engagement ring with a diamond encrusted on top. That was dreamed up by the N.W. Ayer ad agency in the 1900s, to prop up what was once an abundant and intrinsically worthless gemstone.

We as humans (seem to) need ritual, repetition. It feels safe, and it feels predictable. If we arrived home after work each night and our keys worked one time in ten, we'd feel pretty out of sorts. Marketing and advertising around Christmas often depicts the familiar and cozy - even though a snow-driven Christmas is largely a product of the American imagination. Our drink containers, wrapping paper - even Christmas crackers - all show us images of Snowmen, candy canes, and hot cups of cocoa. All this in the middle of blazing summer, on a continent far removed from the frosted-over driveways of Europe or the United States.

Even as absurd as it sounds, this holiday has near universal support. Is that a good thing? Like most decisions we make in life, that's up to us and us alone. It's a weird one, when you think about it!

Here's my pitch and sizzle reel

Well, not quite. But the great friends at Bizividz recorded a great promo video for my upcoming seminar on Monday, 9 May at Sandringham Yacht Club. Click here to register!

To talk copywriting (accounting...website development and everything else) you're always welcome to come along to one of Bayside Business Network's networking nights at the beautiful Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Sandringham. It's on Wednesday, the 4th of May. Click here for more information!

A Word Sparking Star Wars and Real Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens drowned us this summer, with merchandising ranging from mascara to oranges on store shelves. Once I saw the new film, I wanted to see the original theatrical versions, undiluted by George Lucas’ meddling. Lucasfilm insists they no longer exist. Of course, legions of fans took it upon themselves to reconstruct the films using a variety of sources. The most controversial change in the first film takes place in the Mos Eisley cantina scene. (spoiler alert – but really, you should’ve seen Star Wars by now!) Green gilled and bug-eyed Greedo corners smuggler Han Solo. Han’s a marked man and Greedo’s itching to collect. In the original version, (after stalling and Han drawing his blaster) Han shoots Greedo “in cold blood.” Here’s what the shooting script says:

Suddenly the slimy alien disappears in a blinding flash of light. 
Han pulls his smoking gun from beneath the table as the other patrons look on in bemused amazement.”

Later revisions show Greedo shooting first, then Han and Greedo shooting at the same time. “So what?” you might think. This visually insignificant change is one that contains multitudes.

It’s supposed to inform viewers that Solo isn’t so trustworthy. Ben and Luke have put in their lot with this low-life braggart. We’re supposed to feel uneasy about this hasty alliance. It changes the tenor of the film. Han could have sold Ben and Luke if captured by the Imperials, left them for dead at any time, etc.

Another far more tragic example of subtle changes having long reaching effects was during the last gasp of World War II. Japan, threatened by invasion from the United States and fast running out of resources, was determined to fight until the last man. The “Big Three” (United Kingdom, Soviet Union and the US) issued an ultimatum for surrender to the Japanese. The Japanese responded in the negative, but suffered from mistranslation. A word – mokusatsuhas two meanings in Japanese. The first being “ignore” and the other, “refrain from comment.” It was the difference between “let us think about it” and “We refuse!” If the message was translated as “no comment,” the Japanese and US may have arrived at a surrender deal, preventing the twin atomic horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This misinterpretation struck consequences far beyond the imaginations of its writers and readers.

It’s a chilling lesson for clarity and precision in communication. We may think that subtle differences make no difference, although we're proven wrong time and time again. If you believe that words are your ally, do – keep in mind words might turn on you without provocation. Remember always: "Expect to misunderstand and expect to be misunderstood."