Air Guitar

Posted in Films on March 28, 2011 by timlafferty

United Breaks Guitars is the ultimate revenge by a passenger who received poor customer service and I challenge you to watch it and not think “well done you.”  Dave Carroll wrote a song about his experience on United Airlines and the video went viral – 10 million people have watched it on You Tube in the past year and they all now think their luggage isn’t safe with United. It’s a salutary lesson for companies in the age of social media – no matter how good your marketing is, you can totally lose control of the message if you disappoint your customers.

On the subject of managing the message there has been a move by airlines in the last couple of years to try to engage passengers more in their on-board safety videos. Air New Zealand’s is perhaps the most extreme with camp aerobic instructor Richard Simmons doing a cheesy 1970’s routine. It might be novel the first time but is surely a discouragement to be a frequent flyer with them – it’s not something you’d want to sit through twice.

On the other hand, the one they did with their staff wearing nothing but body paint needs to be viewed several times to ensure you, um, know where the lifejackets are stowed. It’s hard to concentrate on safety and you have to think they’d be cold if the aircraft had to ditch in the sea. Some of them already look cold, if you know what I mean.

Virgin America’s on-board video has an animation, with a tongue-in-cheek voice over which seems to try to convey the message that “we think this stuff is boring as you do, but hey, we have to do it.” The problem with that is, they really shouldn’t find that stuff boring – that’s our job. It’s also a bit condescending but does have its moments, such as “For the 0.0001% of you that have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this….”

And finally – an entertaining airline steward, at SouthWest, who raps the safety briefing. He’s pretty cool.


Why Not?

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on March 6, 2011 by timlafferty

There’s a TV commercial running at the moment for Direct Line Insurance with the sign-off “Why not call Direct Line…” Why not is such a lame call to action; it might as well be followed by “…if you’ve got nothing better to do.” On the other hand, one of the cleverest and bravest ads on tele lately has been the one for Marmite, the strong-tasting yeast extract spread. The ads are based on “love it or hate it” showing clips of people either relishing it, or virtually gagging on it. What’s clever is that they’ve recognised that people who hate it aren’t going to change their minds based on something they’ve seen on TV, so they may as well alienate them. What they want to do is remind the rest of us how much we like it and make us feel special, part of an elite.

The Economist had this down to a fine art with their poster advertising, making people who read it feel that they must be a cut above the average. For example:

You can so tell who doesn’t like read The Economist

They’ve also played on the fear of looking ignorant, for example (approximate headline from memory):

“I never read the Economist.”

Assistant Manager, 49

An Economist TV commercial which ran a few years ago showed a man sitting in business class on an airline, when Henry Kissinger sits down next to him. The voice-over went something like this:

So, you’re going to be spending the next 4 hours talking to Henry Kissinger. Nervous?”

I admired the Economist’s advertising for years and I think it explains why something with such a dull sounding title punched seriously above its weight. For years they continued to invest in advertising, even when times were tough, which is why their circulation sales were the most robust in the industry. But in the last three or four years even they seem to have been hit by the downturn in print media; I don’t see so much of them these days and what they’re doing lacks some of their previous cleverness.

When I was at BusinessWeek I was tempted to run a poster campaign that had the word “Economist” on a red background, and then the word “Pragmatist” below in BusinessWeek colours. Thankfully someone further up the line decided that waging war on The Economist probably wasn’t a good idea.

The FT’s ‘No FT, no comment’ tagline played to similar fears – that if you don’t read it, you won’t have anything to say on important issues. But their advertising has never been quite as clever or consistent as The Economist’s. My favourite moment of schadenfreude (I was working for the competition at the time) was when they used a pink yacht to promote the launch of their Australian edition, but it hit Sydney Opera House and sank. Picture here.

Probably the best advertising that the FT has done involved no copywriting at all – they wrapped the newspaper around Hong Kong’s tallest building, Two IFC. My friend Mary-Frances Bellman was behind that ground-breaking and memorable stunt, which garnered a huge amount of press coverage. Click here for pictures. The moral of those two FT stories is to be memorable, but for the right reasons. And why not?

A Body of Text

Posted in Words on February 22, 2011 by timlafferty

The human body isn’t generally thought of as a print medium, but it can be. Take tattoos. I heard today that a man in the U.S. had the text of Leviticus 18:22 tattooed on his arm; it forbids male homosexuality (photo here). Presumably he’s not aware that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos.

I know of a man who had “R.I.P. Mum” tattooed on his arm even though Mum was alive and well – he thought Rest In Peace meant, like, Peace Man. On an airport bus a few years ago, I overheard a woman asking an elderly couple about their matching tattoos. They had each other’s names etched on their arms. They said they’d been together for 50 years so reckoned they would probably not split up, and they no longer had parents telling them they couldn’t have them. I thought that was kinda cool.

Even though I spent 10 years in the Navy, I don’t have any tattoos and I’d have to be very drunk indeed to have one now. I really dislike heavily tattooed bodies but I don’t mind the odd discrete etching. Once, in the back of a Hong Kong taxi, a mate’s girlfriend flashed me the little dolphin on her buttock. It was over 20 years ago but still strikes me as a rather erotic moment, which probably makes me sound a bit of a saddo.

If being jabbed with a needle hundreds of times doesn’t appeal, you could wear a witty t-shirt instead. And, unlike a tattoo, you can change it easily when you get bored. A Facebook friend-of-a-friend in the U.S. wrote this on her page today:

“Just saw a young man at the gym wearing a shirt that said, “I heart bush” and thought, “I really hope he means p*ssy”.”

Other t-shirt captions I’ve seen and liked recently include:

Dyslexics Untie

I’m not a complete idiot; some parts are missing.

“The trouble with being punctual is that no-one’s there to appreciate it.” Franklin P. Jones.

Bomb disposal expert. If you see me running, try to keep up.

Men and women are from Earth. Deal with it.

Practice safe food; use condiments.

Please send me your favourites (that’s a request not a t-shirt slogan).

What would you have tattooed on yourself? On your worst enemy?


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog featuring the self-deprecating humour of James Blunt. An article about him in the Sunday Times Magazine this week talked about exactly that (among other things about him) and gave some of the same examples. You read it here first, free! (I’d be flattered if they’re reading my blog to get ideas but it seems unlikely).

If I Agreed With You, We’d Both Be Wrong

Posted in Words on February 15, 2011 by timlafferty

After a friend and her husband split up, she stayed in the family house and he moved into a flat.  A few weeks later he came round for a family meal, after which he said to her “There are many things I miss about living here, but you’re not one of them.” Fortunately she’s the sort that can see the funny side of a remark like that and appreciate it for what it is (apart from rude) – a paraprosdokian. That’s a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. It’s often used for humorous effect, sometimes producing an anti-climax.

Winston Churchill was rather good at paraprosdokians:

“A modest man, who has much to be modest about.”


“There but for the grace of God….goes God.”

Here are some others, authors unknown, but forwarded to me by Sylvia Luckman:

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

Evening news is where they begin with “Good Evening” and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk I have a work station.

Dolphins are so clever that after a few weeks in captivity they can train people to stand on the edge of the pool and throw them fish.

A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don’t need it.

Whenever I fill out a form that says “Person to notify in the event of emergency” I always write “Doctor.”

I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

I saw a women wearing a T-shirt which said “Guess” on it. So I said “Implants?”

Behind every successful man is a woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

Hospitality: making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.

Some people cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

I always take life with a pinch of salt. Plus a slice of lime and a shot of tequila.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and then name whatever you hit as the target.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

A bus is a vehicle that travels twice as fast when you’re running after it as it does when you’re in it.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

If you know any good ones, please send them to me.


Posted in Life on February 8, 2011 by timlafferty

The most entertaining after dinner speaker I’ve ever heard was, to my surprise, the late comedian Bob Monkhouse. While I shared the widely-held view that he seemed a bit smug on television, he was a great comic writer, performer and even a serious actor, across many media. In a TV show on Saturday night, a tribute to his life and work, we were told that he once described himself as “a difficult man to ignore, but well worth the effort.”

I rather like that sort of self-deprecating humour, the kind often favoured by the upper classes. The singer James Blunt, a former Army officer and pupil of Harrow School, was once asked how it felt to have been voted the third most annoying person in Britain. He replied “I’m gutted that I didn’t win.” He was also asked if it was true that during the war in Kosovo he’d kept his guitar strapped to the outside of his armoured personnel carrier. “Yes. I wanted to keep it on the inside,” he said “but my superior officers told me I had to keep the men inside.” See here for a funny spoof of one of his videos; he strikes me as someone who would enjoy the joke.

A previous boss of mine, Angus MacDonald, is also an ex-Army officer, what I would call ‘landed Scottish’ and a master of the self-deprecating joke. When he was CEO and owner of Financial News, once a quarter he’d have a talk with all the new employees to introduce himself as the “chap who makes the coffee.” But beneath his modesty was a sharp business brain – he sold the company for about £80m.

What I like about self-effacing humor is that it implies a modicum of humility, confidence and the ability not to take oneself too seriously – it’s the opposite of bragging even if it is false modesty.

It’s easy to underestimate modest people, and I love it when an underestimated person wins the day. Four years ago in Costa Rica, a tour group of elderly American tourists from a cruise ship was held up by three armed muggers. The thieves thought these old people were easy prey until one of the old men got hold of a mugger in a headlock and broke his neck, killing him, prompting the other two bandits to run away. The old man was a former marine. (I wrote a film script based on that story which got some interest from Eon Productions, the makers of the James Bond films, but that’s another story).

I like to be underestimated (rather than ‘misunderestimated’ as Dubya called it), and in work I prefer to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the opposite. As a freelancer, the problem with under-promising is that sometimes you don’t win the work in the first place because it often goes to the best salesman rather than the most honest.

Wealthy people can be modest more easily than the rest of us: you don’t need to blow your own trumpet when you own an orchestra.


My last blog about 11:11 and guardian angels attracted about four times the traffic I usually get. Before that, ‘Nemo sex change shock’ was the most popular and still regularly gets hits from Google searches – goodness knows what they are hoping to find. 11:11 also prompted a lively debate on my Facebook page, started by my step-mother Rosemary who pointed out that if you add the year of your birth to the age you will be on your birthday in 2011, it always adds up to 111. Example:

If you were born in 1970 and will be 41 this year: 70 + 41 = 111.

Someone even sent me the mathematical equation to prove it.


My Guardian Angel Wants a Word

Posted in Fun on February 2, 2011 by timlafferty

On 1-1-11 I blogged that I’ve been a little obsessed by that number pattern, seeming to see 11:11 on digital clocks very regularly since my teenage years and vaguely wondering what might happen to me on 11-11-11 this year. Yesterday evening my wife was watching the hospital soap Holby City, and for the first time ever I watched some of it. One of the characters made all her decisions based on signs sent by her guardian angel, including not going for vital surgery because it wasn’t one o’clock. She seemed to be a member of some sort of movement called ’11:11 Light Guardians’. Surely it must be a sign; the first time I see the show it has an 11:11 message. But a sign of what?

Today I typed ’11:11 Light Angels’ into Google and got 1.3 million results. There are 131 videos in Google Videos on the subject.

Imagine my surprise to discover that, apparently, if you see the numbers 11:11 regularly it’s because angels want to communicate with you. There are, conveniently, 1,111 spirit guardians, and they asked for 11:11 to be their sign when we developed digital clocks.

One site, Angel of Light Center has a message from Mary “The Magdalene” about January 11th, 2011 (1-11-11 in American). I guess Mary doesn’t have internet access because her message is “channelled” by Anna Beatrice.

At Universal Life Tools they reckon that 2009 was a rare 11 Universal vibration year (2+0+0+9 = 11). “Thus the 11 Universal vibration year will bring about a planetary rLOVEution of grand proportions and connect EARTH back to the HEART (just move the H from the end to the beginning) of LOVE (Live, One, Vibrational, Energy).” Is it me, or are they taking these patterns a little too far – they’ve even dragged poor old words into it?

Now, I’m probably above-averagely open to things that many people (if not angels) would consider alternative, even whacko. I meditate, do yoga and have been to many sessions at the eRejuvenation center in London where they specialise in channelling positive energy, all of which I’ve found beneficial. Out of curiosity I once even spent a weekend on a course run by Psychic Sue which was interesting (although I wasn’t sure about her claim that she could “read” bare buttocks). But, comforting as it is to think I might have a guardian angel, even I can’t stretch to thinking that he/she is communicating with me through the digital clock of my Ford Fiesta.

I thought it was only me that had this interest in 11:11; it’s even, coincidentally, the date of my wedding. So it’s with some disappointment that I learn that 75m other people also notice this number pattern. Perhaps I’m not so special; it’s just that, as I suspected, 11:11 is a noticeable number. On the other hand, maybe Holby did contain a message from my guardian angel: “Go forth and write a blog about this.”

If you’ve got nothing better to do than watch that episode of Holby City (but I’m sure you have) you can see it here, preferably at 11:11 p.m.

Writer Jokes

Posted in Fun on January 25, 2011 by timlafferty

The Queen was touring a Scottish hospital. She approached the bed of a patient who shouted out “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!”. Another patient staggered up to her and sang “Should auld acquaintance be forgot.” Turning to a doctor she asked if she was in a ward for mental patients. “No ma’am,” was the reply “This is the Burns Unit”.

Groan. But my excuse is that tonight is Burns night. For those indulging in haggis and whiskey this evening, cheers!

Here are a few other writer jokes, for which I have no excuses:

Shakespeare wasn’t allowed into his local pub. He was Bard.


How many mystery writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Two – one to do most of the turning and the other to give it a final twist at the end.


A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-charred wife is standing outside. “What happened, honey?” the man asks.

“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the cooker was on fire. It went up in seconds. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor Moggie is…”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” the man says. “My agent called?”


Have you heard about the two literary agents who saw one of their writers on the other side of the street? One of them said “There’s the bastard who gets 75% of our earnings”.


A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”