Important breakfast meetings

Important breakfast meetings

When our first child was at weaning stage, my husband and I used to laugh at the text on her box of organic baby porridge. (Six or seven months into parenthood, we were obviously taking our hilarity where we could find it, but bear with me.) “Breakfast,” it announced grandly, “is one of the most important meals of the day.” Obviously its audience were newish mums and dads who were finding it tricky to think straight, but in a rare moment of clarity we twigged that even if you’re including brunch and afternoon tea, calling breakfast “one of the most important meals of the day” is saying nothing at all about it.

Four years later, with two small children and a move from organic-only offerings to fill-you-up fodder that will be familiar to many parents, we’re now on to Tesco Bran Flakes. Happening to catch the text on the side of the packet recently as I popped into the kitchen to fetch a spoon, to my amazement I discovered that what we had sniggered at as a complete non-statement could be washed down yet further: “Breakfast is said to be one of the most important meals of the day.” (Emphasis mine.)

At least it was written in a quirky illustrative font so it was nice to look at, because the content sure as heck wasn’t adding anything to my day, apart from the lingering question: “Said by whom, exactly (apart from those organic porridge guys)?” If Tesco could have identified the speaker, it would have been something. As it was, they seemed to be trying to distance even themselves from those poor useless and ownerless words.

Anyway, it got me thinking about business copywriting.

The reluctance to commit to saying anything definite or verifiable is understandable in this sort of work. Often copywriters are up against a tight deadline (so they haven't got masses of researching time), sometimes working to a scant brief. Even with writing that’s better resourced, qualifiers and vague phrasing frequently rule for fear of the legal or PR implications of pinning companies’ colours to the mast. Add sign-off by committee to the mix and you can see how pieces of corporate text fade to worthlessness (or worse).

If it’s only on a box of cereal, the view from the top is probably that it doesn’t matter. But every piece of business writing is a chance to build your brand and air its voice, to engage your customers. And actually, your cereal box, standing as it might on your work surface for weeks, is a prime space for getting a message across. More people will read that than your annual report, I’ll bet.

So have the courage of your convictions. Give them a useful fact. Make them laugh (for the right reasons). They’re at home, fresh from sleep, probably still in their pyjamas. Invest in really communicating with them, and before you know it they’ll be starting their day feeling all warm and fuzzy towards you. Rather than standing in their slippers, holding a spoon and tutting crossly.

Work the bran, work the brand