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Monday, October 23, 2006


In praise of Australian copywriting

... because I used to be a copywriter and I know how difficult it is. And the copywriting on Australian public signs is nothing short of brilliant.

What makes it distinctive to a person used to the circumlocution and indirect language of English signs - which are aiming to be polite - is that there's an energetic directness of phrasing combined with a kind of 'don't blame me, mate, it was your mistake' shrug. Signs threaten you from all directions, usually with fines - but they don't tell you you're liable to a fine, they tell you that you'll get fined. Rather than giving you the neutral information that you might want to think about, they say flat out that if you do something stupid, then it's your own lookout. Really, the icon for 'public service announcement' in Sydney ought to be a down-to-earth little stickman pointing and laughing. Two particularly good examples:

1. On ferries, trains and other places worried about terrorism:

If you see something, say something.

It goes on to say report suspicious packages or persons, but in terms of being both general and common-sensical, it's terrific.

2. My absolute favourite, posted on the walkway above the crocodile enclosure in the Sydney aquarium (best place in the world, go there, go go go), and pretty self explanatory:

Do not enter.
If the fall does not kill you, the crocodile will.


Anyone else have favourite signs or slogans?

'Caution: accidents with chainsaws are rarely trivial.'
Is that serious? That's tremendous! Where did you see it?
It is alleged to be a warning label stuck on to a certain brand of chainsaw. I've never seen one with my own eyes though; it may be an urban legend. (I just enjoy imagining possible trivial chainsaw accidents: stubbing your toe on one when it's switched off, for example.)
'Beware of tsunami when you feel the earthquake' Along the seafront in Kamakura.

And, on more mundane lines: 'Dispose of refuse in this bin' which always makes me feel like I should be taking rubbish out of the bin and throwing it away.
I always used to wonder about 'Keep Britain Tidy', which lends each individual bin a kind of epic quality, like a John Buchan novel written by an OCD sufferer.
Regional variations are interesting too. Although Scotland is a part of Britain they have their own slogan, 'Keep Scotland Beautiful', which rather ups the stakes. 'TIDY Northern Island' sounds like it should have 'or you won't get your pocket money!' after it.
Yes, local variations are interesting. I remember noticing as a child that in England, road signs said 'Give Way', whereas in Ireland, they said 'Yield right of way', which, like much Irish speech in comparison with English, was more amiably verbose.
I've just realised I wrote Island instead of Ireland. I must have been tisd.
I worked with a guy who once reported to me that he saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign that said:
Extra Tender Crispy
Help Wanted

(Mmmm... tastes like chicken.)

I had friends who bought a 6-man raft for whitewater rafting. The instructions said, "Do not eat raft."
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