Would You Say That To Someone You Know?

Now before I go any further, this hardly qualifies as a big idea, as it is just a mistake so damned obvious that I hope you don’t make it.

There are only two reasons I have the nerve to put it forward.

The first is that I see it made every day by people who ought to know better – like the world’s second biggest bank, for instance, slap bang in the middle of Europe’s most successful shopping street.

The second is that, although seemingly a small thing, it damages something much larger and more important which I shall come to in a moment.

Here is an example of what I mean.

Recently, a new branch of HSBC opened in London. While the premises were being refurbished, the sign outside read: “Coming soon… Another exciting HSBC branch opening here.”

So, tell me, dear reader, do YOU find your bank exciting? Do you see it as the ideal party venue? Will you be waiting nervously outside the new branch just before it opens, wanting to be the first to rush in and use one of the free pens?

Or do you, like most normal people, regard the opening of a new bank as slightly less interesting than a wet day in the cemetery?

My point is that the idea of a new bank being exciting is downright absurd. And that this word – and a number of others, like fabulous and fantastic – is used on an astounding number of inappropriate occasions by people who can’t be bothered to think of something more appropriate.

One reason is that very few writers nowadays have a rich vocabulary, but it’s too late to do much about that. What matters is to understand what words like this do – or fail to do.

It is true that a little exaggeration is no bad thing in copy – but you can only stretch the truth so far.

If your new bank does have something special about it say so. If it hasn’t, shut up.

You may ask why this matters.

I know I have quoted Fairfax Cone elsewhere, but I make no excuse for doing so again. When he saw bad copy he would ask the culprit: “Would you say that to someone you know?”

If you wouldn’t, don’t foist it on the general public.

This is because by doing so abuses an essential element in the relationship between you and your prospect or customer.

That element is called trust. And by coincidence, it is the lack of this between banks which has had such a disastrous effect on all of us.

About the Author


In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.


  1. Rob Watson

    So true Drayton. I’m equally peeved by the current Santander advert saying that I want my current account to be simple, rewarding and innovative.

    How do they know what I want it to be? I don’t want it to be innovative – I want it to receive my salary every month, and dish it out to me at regular intervals, which is all I’ve ever wanted from a current account. They can leave the innovation to Apple et al for all I care.

    1. Drayton

      The word innovative, together with the word iconic, should be banned. They are the proud preserve of the semi-literate and the pretentious

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