May 30, 2010

Devaluing The Customer

'As one of our valued customers...'

I was tempted to stop reading at this point and bin the letter, but I knew no harm was intended, so continued on reluctantly.

Now I know it's well-meaning, but I find being addressed in this way is a real turn-off. The thought of being someone else's 'valued customer' puts me in mind of an oily huckster, rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of another quick buck.

In the same way as I don't like to be called 'my friend' by a perfect stranger or 'pal' by someone whose angry tone tells me I'm anything but, the idea of being the 'valued customer' of a brand leaves me cold. Whilst I understand the sentiment (the company wants to tell me that my business matters to them), it's awkward and more likely to drive a wedge between me and them than to bring us any closer.

It's much better for a brand to lose the pompous, over-friendly language and choose words instead that better reflect the real relationship it enjoys with me.

Something along the lines of 'your business is important to us', backed up with evidence of how they value my custom is much more likely to win me over and keep me with them until the end of the message. As it was, only good manners stopped me from tearing up the letter and despatching it to the bin.

Over To You: What type of language from brands leaves you cold?

May 16, 2010

Stealing The Riches To Leave Us The Poorer

We were robbed!

Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's hugely disappointing Robin Hood has raided the classic tale, stripped it of its valuables and left it for dead under the greenwood. The film had looked like the perfect family outing: a director / actor combination that we'd all loved in Gladiator, a great supporting cast, and above all, the promise of a new take on an epic story that always thrills no matter how often we've heard it told before.

But this was no Robin Hood. Sure, he was there in name, as were his merry men, alongside King Richard (briefly), Prince John and the rather nondescript Sheriff of Nottingham. And there was some token taking from the rich but only to give to the hard done by gentry. Yet where was the ingenious rascal, taking on the might of the stolen crown in a series of daring escapades, stunts and rescues? Where, in particular, were the rapier-sharp exchanges between our dashing outlaw and his dastardly and scheming opponent, the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Now, I know these can be (and have been) overdone, but they are at the heart of the charm of Robin Hood.

Instead, this Robin Hood plays like a greener Braveheart or a more sociable Maximus. Meanwhile, his enemies are weak, greedy and disloyal, rather than really bad. The result is a paler, dappled version that lacks the essential appeal of the great story that has persisted in one form or another since at least the early days of the last millennium.

On its own terms, this probably wasn't a bad film but we felt robbed of the promise held out in its title. Whilst the new story was engaging enough at times, by the end we didn't feel as though we really cared about what happened to Robin, Marian and the others. They didn't stand for anything important and the film played like a worthy piece of history rather than the great sweeping epic of yore.

This isn't just about a film that disappoints. There's a lesson in there for any of us who set out to tell a great story through branding. When you find a good yarn, it's up to you to tell it. Stick to your story and don't depart from it just to appear more relevant or interesting.

For my money, this Robin Hood stole one of the richest names in history, messed up the storytelling, and left us the poorer for it. Shame on you, Messrs. Scott and Crowe.