Google not-so-safe search

Here’s the thing – I’ve been using Google for 15 years and until the other day I had never heard of Google Safe Search. I’ve either missed out on a lot of good stuff over the years or I’ve never searched for anything remotely iffy.

Then, the other day I googled “Bullshit bingo” in the hope of finding a couple of goofy examples of corporate jargon to cheer me up, and boom, there it was in all its glory – Google Safe Search.

“The word ‘bullshit’ has been filtered from search because Google Safe Search is active” was the proud and initially mildly irritating proclamation. However, my irritation soon turned to amusement.

Thanks to Safe Search, instead of finding examples of harmless and jocular corporate puffery I was served up a page jam packed with wicked pernicious bingo sites, all trying to tempt me to part with my hard earned moolah.  Provided of course I’m 18 or over…

Oh the irony of it.


I’m a frequent flyer, and as a consequence of international aviation law and my lily-livered British tendency to comply with silly rules, I tend to browse through the in-flight magazine until the seatbelt sign goes out. I’d love to know the real reason why I am forbidden from reading my Kindle, but that’s another story.

Anyway, that’s why I came across an astonishing example of corporate puffery this evening. You know the stuff. Bland and meaningless tosh used by corporate communicators the world over to fill a bit of space when they have nothing really to say.

Here is the offending piece, which is part of the welcome page inside the front cover, written (well, signed at least) by the airline’s Managing Director:

“With the new year fast approaching, I would like to share with you the news that throughout 2012 we will be announcing a number of new initiatives. These will ensure that we continue to making flying with us the quickest, most comfortable and best-value way to travel across Europe.”

He then moves on, swiftly changing the subject, leaving me in such a state that I felt compelled to  whip out my laptop and write my first ever airborne blog.

Quite how the intention to announce news of news next year can constitute news today is beyond me.

But what is worse – corporate puff or marketing bull?

Marketing bull

There’s nothing like a bit of marketing bullshit to invigorate your day.

You know the kind of stuff I’m on about: “I need a cradle to grave solution pronto – I want you to shoot for the moon but let’s not boil the ocean on this one amigos, we simply don’t have the bandwidth”…

I’m delighted to report that in my relatively short experience with my current employer I don’t see much of this (other than when agencies pop in to pitch for some business and the occasional chai latte).

So imagine my surprise when I received a draft communication recently from one of our own Marketing boys about a new product he wanted to let everyone know about, which contained the following line:

“…as part of our overall drive to dial up the volume button on our value pillar and to make value core to our brand this year across all channels…”

On the whole, the draft was actually a beautifully written piece and got the message across perfectly until this sliding tackle from behind left me with no choice but to reach for the yellow card.

My modest contribution to improving this line was to simplify the text by removing the offending words, leaving:

“…as part of our overall drive to make value core to our brand this year across all channels…”

Hands up anyone who thinks the volume button and value pillar will be missed?

Never say what you really think

I got pulled over by the rossers on the way home tonight. It was just after 11pm, traffic was light, and was caught skipping a red light on my bicycle.

I’m not after sympathy. I know I won’t get any because motorists (me included) get really cheesed off by the frequent sight of lycra-clad urban cycle terrorists violating virtually every conceivable traffic law on a daily basis (me included).

First then, I apologise for breaking the law. I know that cyclists are subject to the laws of the road just as much as drivers.  That said, I think I was not acting in an unreasonable way taking into account the full circumstances.

The red light in question controls a junction on Kingston Hill that only feeds the car park to Asda. Asda closed at 9pm. There were no pedestrians anywhere to be seen. There were two buses stopped at the lights, taking up both lanes, and rather than edge inside them, which, as every cyclist knows is very dangerous, I edged around them on the outside lane.

I’m on a bike. I have great all-round vision unlike a driver. I can hear everything around me, unlike a driver. I ride this route very regularly and have an acute awareness of the traffic light phasing. It was 11pm at night and traffic was light.

I was not moving much faster than walking speed as I reached front row of the grid and I could see there was no traffic or pedestrians coming out of Asda. Instead of coming to a complete stop and having to unhook those bloody stupid clippy shoes from the pedals I edged out across the junction and slowly kept moving forward.

Before I had cleared the junction the lights were green. I rose up off my saddle and pushed on quickly Lance Armstrong style, and after maybe 20 yards became aware of a marked police car pull up alongside me, blue lights flashing, sounding its horn. I always thought horns were only to be used as a warning, not as a way to grab one’s attention unnecessarily.

I pulled up – as it happens right in front of the next set of traffic lights which had just turned green. The police car stopped next to me, and between the two of us we were now blocking both southbound lanes, at a major intersection, with a trail of cars behind us now prevented from continuing up the road.

Officer: “You have just committed a moving traffic offence for which I can fine you £30”

Me: “You’re right and I’m sorry, but it is 11pm, Asda closed a few hours ago, I could see my passage was clear, I knew the lights were just about to change and I was travelling at walking speed” (I actually wanted to say “you are blocking the road because you can’t be arsed to pull over and get out of the car to speak to me properly – that is unnecessary obstruction of the highway, rude and pretty unprofessional” but having been a police office for 15 years in a previous life I knew better than to say want I really thought).

Officer: “If I have to stop, so do you”

Me: “I understand that and I’m sorry for wasting your time” (I actually wanted to say “If I have to stop, so do you is a pretty childish way of describing the situation surrounding my transgression. Grow up and go and do some proper police work and stop wasting everybody’s time”, but having been a police office for 15 years in a previous life I knew better than to say want I really thought).

I think I’ll get the train tomorrow just in case Kingston Old Bill read this, get the hump and come looking for me.

No going back

Can you imagine popping into your local bakery to pick up a baguette and after learning that they have sold out you find your exit blocked by a couple of bouncers who refuse to let you leave the shop without making a purchase?

It’s not going to happen.

So why on earth do some websites think that adding a bit of JavaScript to their homepage to prevent you from using your browser’s back button to leave their site is a good idea?

Hell has more chance of freezing over before I will ever intentionally re-visit a website that deliberately thinks that this is a legitimate way to encourage visitors to spend more time with them.

Dilbert and hypocrisy

I noticed this on page 42 of the recent Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For 2010 supplement.

It made me chuckle as it reminded me of an incident some time ago when I was asked to create a communications plan for a project that had no apparent project plan.

But now that I’ve shared this with you I’m feeling a bit grubby. I’m feeling guiltier than a blackcurrant knocking back a glass of Ribena – and I’m feeling the need to issue a bit of a disclaimer.

The thing is, I’ve never been a huge Dilbert fan as I think it’s all so depressingly negative. Don’t get me wrong, it can be very funny – if you think about it, lots of humour is depressingly negative.

Dilbert is a passenger. He stands there seemingly powerless to do anything positive or fix anything. All he does is mock the bleeding obvious. I reckon Dilbert fans identify with his frustrations and think that sharing a regular comic strip with their colleagues, apart from being funny, is their contribution to making things better. Actually what they are really doing is copying Dilbert’s impotence and inaction.

I’d wager that the spirit of Dilbert thrives most in organisations where people feel undervalued, ignored and doing meaningless work. If I were conducting cultural due diligence on a company, I’d just walk around the offices and count how many Dilbert strips are hanging off the walls.

That’s why I feel a bit grubby. But I can live with myself as I have at least gone to the effort of explaining my apparent hypocrisy.  And I did subsequently make a positive contribution to the production of the project plan I required on which to hang my comms plan, without taking the piss out of the project manager.

Cut the crap

There was a great question posed on Melcrum’s Communicators Network on Linkedin recently: “Can you describe your business or expertise in 10 words or less?”

To date there have been over 44 responses – and at the risk of causing offence to some of my peers, I have to say that by the time I got to the end of the list I was left with a lingering sensation of sadness.

The best of the bunch come from in-house practitioners. My two favourites were the short and sweet; “Insurance” from the comms manager from AXA and the stunningly accurate and descriptive “Bringing freedom and independence to blind and partially sighted people” from the intranet manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Now, compare these to the contributions some of the specialist communications agencies and consultants:

  • Unleashing the power of involvement in live communication
  • Helping businesses become what they want to be!
  • A snail crawling along the edge of a razor blade
  • Bringing out their best by being your best
  • Changing People Inside
  • Making Monday the best day of the week
  • Bringing together HR and marketing to keep your business authentic
  • Helping organizations engage employees in conversations for possibility
  • Creating maximum employee engagement through non-equity employee ownership
  • Making change management look like a game of football

In fairness, take each one in isolation and you could get away with it. Maybe. But read them all on a single page and they begin to look increasingly absurd. I was reminded of the recent advert for Tesco Mobile, which I think is genius.

The list above looks to me like a bit of a showcase on what’s wrong with the Internal Communications Industry and perhaps one of the reasons why we find it difficult sometimes to be heard at Board level.

I wonder if any of the contributors used the online corporate bullshit generator?