Saturday 5 November 2011

Have cat, will travel

Every so often I have some kind of creative idea. Sometimes they're good. Sometimes they may even have commercial possibilities. Rarely, however, are they ever put into practice.

But this time I think I've hit on a real gem.

I don't want to give away too much at the moment... but let's just say the online market for feline food critics is largely untapped. And there are a lot of fish fingers out there.

All I need to do is persuade a cat to join my campaign.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Oh, to be a mobile developer

I’m no developer. I’ve not written any programming code since the family VIC 20 passed away. These days I tinker with the occasional HTML tag but that’s about it. Instead I write in a rather more conventional language, favouring Roget’s Thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary as my SDK.

But that didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying Over The Air 2011, an event aimed squarely at mobile developers.

Here's the blog post I wrote about OTA11 for

The text message just said "Yellow Citroën hatchback". At least the diaeresis on the ë was in the right place. It meant the stranger who was giving me a lift from the station was probably an urbane French speaker. Either that, or they had surprisingly good predictive text on their phone. The third possibility - a serial killer with an old Sagem - hadn't crossed my mind yet.

It was at this point I realised I'd already fallen for Over The Air, a unique event aimed at mobile developers. Throwing caution to the wind, I'd arranged a lift there via Twitter with a mysterious developer I'd never met. Or spoken to.

I needn't have worried. The mystery developer turned out to have an iPhone mounted on the dashboard of their yellow Citroën. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Two and a half hours later, having talked about everything from religious homophobes to battery life (via Doctor Who and greenhouse gases) with no obvious disagreements, we arrived at Bletchley Park. This definitely had the makings of a Very Good Day.

I'll admit the sight of the mansion, the huts and the grounds didn't really impress me. It's not that I'm soulless, just that I'd previously been there in the 1980s when BT used some of the buildings to host training courses for their telephone engineers. Yes, Alan Turing and I worked on the same site, albeit decades apart. However, I doubt that Mr Turing played table tennis and drank lager in the evening after a day of soldering practice and safety films. To be honest, I'm not even sure if I'd pass the test that bears his name.

Delegates who'd arrived for the 10am start had been welcomed by an introductory talk from Dr Sue Black, Bletchley Park campaigner and Senior Research Associate in software engineering at UCL. Slow traffic and GPS failure on the iPhone had delayed us, so Sue generously revisited her keynote speech and explained to me why Bletchley was so important to the nation... and to developers in particular. The answers are in Saturday's podcast; listen out for the phrases "geek Mecca", "shortened the war" and "world's first digital programmable computer".

Next on my interview list was co-founder Daniel Appelquist, who took time out from keeping the entire event on track to discuss the aims and ambitions of OTA.

Also happy to chat was Paul Johnston, a man who was in the fortunate position of living nearby. Not for him the pitching of tents on the lawn or the secret Coca-cola hoarding in preparation for all-night coding. I could have talked to him for much longer but it was time to hear some of the presentations.

Hang on moment. I'm getting ahead of myself. You'll find my conversations with Sue, Dan and Paul online at listen online, subscribe via RSS, get it on iTunes or download the MP3. And on Friday you'll be able to hear part 2 of my report, which includes some of those presentation speakers.

As for my love affair with Over The Air, I'm already counting the days until we meet again.

Monday 26 September 2011

Working with words

Time for a brief mention about work for those who wonder what I do when I'm not writing. As well as being a copywriter, I’m also a podcaster for The Fonecast. We produce weekly broadcasts of UK mobile industry news for everyone from dealers to developers, covering all the top stories from within the mobile phone business. You’ll find our podcasts on iTunes, from our RSS feed and on the home page of our website.

Sunday 14 August 2011

From advertising to looting

I’m not going to offer any kind of in-depth analysis of the recent riots in the UK. I’m neither qualified to do this nor have I any personal experience to add.

However, having just read and agreed with much of Kate Bevan’s blog post, I’ve decided to offer a few slightly-connected thoughts.

This morning I spotted a message on the front of my wife’s body wash. (A free gift. But I digress). “Lovingly created in the UK”, it says.

Looking at the back of the package you’ll find the comment “Made in the Czech Republic”.

Yes, it’s been ‘created’ in the UK… but it’s not made in the UK. Oh, dear me, no. As if. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think one meant the other, could you?

A new advertisement on the back of our local buses encourages us to ‘relax’, showing a woman with her hands behind her head and her elbows where her fellow-passengers’ heads should be.

That’s okay, isn’t it? It’s hyperbole… or a serving suggestion… or something like that. It's not dishonest, surely?

The path from a few weasel words to breaking into the Carphone Warehouse isn’t a short journey. But I reckon both are on the same road. A little less spin, a little more respect, and the world would be a better place.

Monday 11 July 2011

Business bookshelf

I thought the bookshelf in my office was worthy of a photo. As you'd expect, some books are used much more than others. ('Words that sell' is a guilty pleasure, while Fowler offers more pleasure and less guilt).

Copywriter bookshelf

Monday 4 July 2011

When it comes to credit card security, apparently less is now more

MBNA emailMBNA, my credit card issuer, has sent me an email saying it's dropping the MasterCard SecureCode 3D Secure scheme. This is the security procedure that asks me to enter a password when shopping online.

It says "Using your card online is now easier and more secure", adding that "All online payments will be authorised instantly, whilst still providing all the security features you have come to expect from us."

Which is odd because the card issuer originally said 3D Secure offered added protection.

So... offering the service increased the amount of protection I had... and then taking it away gave me even more protection.

PS: "Servcies"? I'd like to think my financial services providers didn't make too many mistakes.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Copywriters are frauds

Sometimes I feel that I’m more a forger than a copywriter.

I meet a client and write in their voice. I adopt their style. I praise their products like an employee.

They’re writing songs. I’m writing a pastiche. It's an analogy I rather like.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Thanks for visiting our online shop, please don't come back

I've done a spot of online shopping this morning. I bought a collection of cables & leads to connect my computer to my TV. It was all pretty straightforward; I found what I wanted in the online shop, added the item to my 'basket' and paid by using Google Checkout.

Got an email receipt from Google and another from the retailer. All's well.

Half-an-hour later I get a second email from the retailer.

"Thank you for stopping by", it says "We noticed that during your visit to our site you placed the following item(s) in your shopping cart, but did not complete the transaction."

It then describes the item I've just bought.

Oh. Perhaps the purchase didn't work. But hang on, I've got a receipt for my payment via Google. Perhaps there's a problem with the online shop.

There's a "Recover Your Basket" link in the email. Maybe I should click that.

"We are always interested in knowing what reason made you decide not to purchase at this time. If you could be so kind as to let us know if you had any issues or concerns, we would appreciate it. We are asking for feedback from you and others as to how we can make your experience better."

That's nice. But what about those cables and leads I've ordered?

"If the price was an issue, we can provide you with 5% off this purchase with us, if you come back today!"

You WHAT? I've already paid for the goods, you're telling me you've already mislaid my order and now you want to give me a discount.

"PLEASE NOTE: If you selected either PayPal or Google Checkout as a payment option, or purchased from our Ebay Store then please just ignore this email!"

Oh, that's alright then. I'll ignore the discount I could have had if I'd prevaricated. I'll ignore your poor attempt at customer service. That jolly exclamation mark makes it all okay. Thank you. I won't be back.

Friday 6 May 2011

Super injunctions? Take a tip from the mobile industry

This morning I walked past the rack of newspapers in my local shop. Alongside the shocking news that the Duchess of Cambridge actually buys food - don’t get me started! - were headlines about Gabby Logan. The TV presenter was denying she’d had an affair with Alan Shearer, which many people had previously suggested was concealed by a so-called super injunction.

“What does this have to do with mobile phones?”, I hear you ask. Not much, to be honest. But it reminded me of a telecoms news story from November 2009.

Back then, the Information Commissioner’s Office announced it had “been working with a mobile telephone company” after the firm appeared to have discovered a number of employees selling information about customers’ mobile phone contracts.

It didn’t reveal which company it had been talking to… but after Vodafone, O2, Orange and Three had all issued denials, T-Mobile eventually confirmed it was the network involved.

And that got me thinking.

Gabby’s set the ball rolling. All we need is a few more denials to help narrow down the super-injunctees. Assuming, of course, anyone really cares who they are.

Okay, I’ll get back to work now. Hang on… she put WHAT in her shopping trolley?

Sunday 24 April 2011

The Lambretta Egg

Lambretta after Faberge?I spotted this in someone else's magazine: it's a Lambretta collectable egg. Appropriate for Easter, n'est-ce pas?

This gewgaw is styled after the Lambretta SX200, a motor scooter of the 1960s. And now The Bradford Exchange has apparently combined "the legendary artistry of Peter Carl Fabergé" with Lambretta's 200cc scooter.

"At the flick of a switch you can hear the authentic sound of SX200's iconic engine", says the advertising message. Surely that's the sound of Mr Faberge spinning in his grave?

Less of a Faberge egg, more of a curate's egg.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Spammy spammy spam spam spam

The latest piece of nonsense to hit my email in-box claims to be a response to the "collection of resources" on It's asking me to link to an article about PowerPoint on someone else's website. Now, I'm not going to argue that there's many a fine resource at The Fonecast, mainly because I wrote many of them myself, but I fear there's been a spot of cutting-and-pasting going on.

Google the phrase "I really appreciate your collection of resources on the..." and I found loads of very similar messages about a wide cross-section of sites. Along with "I know this article would be a great addition to your information".

What's particularly curious about today's message is that the sender went to the trouble of finding my personal email address and using my name (which isn't part of that email address).

It follows a message on Tuesday from someone who wrote "it's always a great pleasure to read your articles and I have subsequently become a loyal reader". I'm not the first person to receive this type of message... but, again, there was an element of targeting.

Which, all things considered, I find slightly depressing.

Monday 11 April 2011

According to our experts...

One of this morning's news headlines is a report from Billmonitor that claims the UK's mobile phone users are spending almost £5 million per year more than they need. Billmonitor is a mobile tariff price comparison site that's been approved by Ofcom, which helps them stand out from the crowd. However, what's also being mentioned in reports is that the company was "invented by mathematicians in Oxford". (For example, the BBC refers to "a group of Oxford mathematicians behind a start-up firm called Billmonitor"). Whilst the company is indeed based in Oxford - and I don't doubt the involvement of mathematicians - I can't help but notice how the public positioning of Billmonitor differs from that of other comparison websites. I doubt that similar figures would have been given as much credence if they'd been presented by Gio Gompario, Aleksandr Orlov or even Omid Djalili.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Tenuous connection?

I like this blue plaque, mainly because the connections seem so tenuous. Not only is it remembering a house that's no longer there, it's celebrating two people who didn't live in the house.

"Immediately to the south of this building stood the house occupied by Hester and Henry Thrale where Samuel Johnson and Fanny Burney were frequent visitors"

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Have you tried Whiskas?

Have you tried?Have you tried Whiskas Oh so...
A range of tasty and nutritious meals containing succulent whole pieces of meat and fish you can see.

No, I haven't. This is because (a) I prefer not to eat cat food, (b) I don't consider a lack of invisibility is a great way of differentiating the product, and (c) the phrase "whole pieces" appears to be an oxymoron.

Oh, and if you really are targeting this at cats, I don't think their literacy rates are particularly high.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Copywriting mercenary for hire

Hi, I’m freelance copywriter Mark Bridge. You may know me from such classics as “Digital music… it’s nothing to be afraid of!”, “Photography on your mobile”, “April Dealer Bulletin”, “The Buyers’ Guide”, “Business Plan version 2”, “Revised microsite” and the all-time favourite “Security Network Manager”.

Actually, no, you won’t. You may have read them but they won’t have had my name on them. In fact, at least one of those was credited to the authorship of a cartoon character. Such is the anonymous life of the freelance.

Truth be told, I’m even reluctant to use the word ‘freelance’. I prefer free agent, as suggested by Daniel Pink. Freelance and mercenary are pretty much interchangeable. And ‘copywriting mercenary’ isn’t necessarily what you’d expect on a business card. Although I might give it a go.

So how does a free agent copywriter promote himself?

Friday 18 February 2011

Spam email from David Cameron?

The least-plausible email I've ever received:

Our ref: ATM MasterCard/5404/IDR
Your ref:...Date: 12/02/2011


I am The Rt Hon David Cameron MP,Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service British Government. This letter is to officially inform you that (MasterCard Number 5404 5000 0041 0640) has been accredited with your favour. Your Personal Identification Number is 4724.The MasterCard Value is £2,000,000.00(Two Million, Great British Pounds Sterling).

This office will send to you an ATM MasterCard that you will use to withdraw your funds in any ATM MACHINE CENTER or MasterCard outlet in the world with a maximum of £5000 GBP daily.Further more,You will be required to re-confirm the following information to enable;The Rt Hon William Hague MP First Secretary of State for British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
begin in processing of your MasterCard.

(1)Full names: (2)Address: (3)Country: (4)Nationality: (5)Phone #: (6)Age:
(7)Occupation: (8) Post Codes

Rt Hon William Hague MP. First Secretary of State for British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Email; bfca@
Tel: Tel: +44-7466-712-795

TAKE NOTICE: That you are warned to stop further communications with any other person(s) or office(s) different from the staff of the State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to avoid hitches in receiving your payment.


Rt Hon David Cameron MP
Prime Minister

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Food cats would naturally choose

"Food cats would naturally choose" says the box. The picture shows carrots. Now, I'm no animal nutritionist, but isn't that rabbits you're thinking of?

Monday 31 January 2011

In control of the trains - but not the timetables

"We are sorry that train departure information is currently unavailable on this display... we are working with our supplier to resolve this"

Funny old world, innit?

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Phishing spelling

Phishing - sending spam emails in the hope a hapless recipient will respond with their online bank details - is spelled with a ph because... er... well, anyway, it is.

Today I've received yet another.

This one tells me "We detected irregular activity on your HSBC Internet banking account on 11/01/2011."

Very irregular, because I don't have one of those. But I digress.

The penultimate line reads "We ask that you allow at least 72 hours for the case to be investigated and we strongly recommend to verefy (sic) your account in that time."

Yes, the sender put the 'sic' there themselves.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Hello, 2011

I've started 2011 by finishing 'Replay' by Ken Grimwood. It almost seems to replace the need for resolutions.