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Christmas may come but once a year, but for writers it holds some valuable lessons for 2015 and beyond. After all, the festive brand – including our most popular Christmas traditions – has been going strong for more than 200 years: what’s its secret?  

 1) Once upon a time

Whether it’s the nativity or Home Alone, storytelling is a powerful way to convey your message. A great story builds a more emotional connection, strengthens loyalty and creates a ‘snowball effect’ through the press, social media and word of mouth.  

2) Build intrigue

“Marley was dead, to begin with…” The opening to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol shows the importance of a strong opening sentence. The first few words of any piece of copy can either win your reader over, or lose them altogether. Go for something with impact that really grabs attention.

3) Keep it personal

When it comes to festive jumpers, one size doesn’t fit all. And the same is true of your marketing. With so much data at your fingertips, you can really focus your messages and test headlines and subject lines to find the perfect fit for your readers. 

4) Show your true colours

Some brands behave a little like a Christmas chameleon: warm and welcoming in December, but cold and distant the rest of the year. A touch of humility and a dash of human language can make a big difference all year round. 

5) People love surprises

A great reveal. An unexpected turn of phrase. The best communications still have the power to surprise.

6) It’s the thought that counts

You needn’t spend a fortune to create a big impression. A few carefully chosen words are worth a thousand pictures.

7) Good things come in threes

Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. For some reason, things that come in threes are more satisfying, effective and memorable. It’s an old writing principle that is used in everything from some of history’s greatest speeches to canny advertising. Even St. Matthew (and his three wise men) knew this little trick.

8) Break down your information

“Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves…” Just imagine how unwieldy the carol would become if you had to use conjunctions between every line: “Four calling birds and three French hens with two turtle doves…”     

9) And a partridge in a pear tree…

It might not be the way they teach it in school texts – but starting sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’ is okay in our books. It can give copy pace, make it more conversational and add a more modern-sounding edge. It’s a rule of thumb that lasts for life, not just for Christmas.

Of course, as any great pantomime dame or TV comedy legend will say – “It’s how you tell ‘em that counts”. So with these handy yuletide tips (and maybe our copywriting help), you’re sure to get your words and messages just right for 2015.

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2014 was the year that gave us adorkable (meaning someone who’s socially inept or unfashionable in a charming or endearing way) and felfie (a farmer’s selfie), but what word caught your eye? Something real or imaginary? Misheard or misspelt?

We’d love to hear your personal Word of the Year. Send a tweet that includes @inkcopywriters and don’t forget to include the hashtag – #Inkreadible. Our three favourites* will receive a small, but suitably wordy, prize.

And, if that’s not enough fun and games, why not test your wordy knowledge with our Ink Christmas quiz. You’ll find the answers at the end.

* You have until 24.12.14 to submit your words. If you’re a winner, we’ll let you know by 9.1.15.

1) What is a ‘taikonaut’?

a) A Chinese astronaut

b) A taekwondo fanatic

c) A type of sea slug  

 

2) Which is probably the most commonly used English word in the world?

a) Okay

b) Sex

c) Kim Kardashian

 

3) What athlete is warmest in the winter?

a) A long jumper

b) A pole vaulter

c) A javelin thrower

 

4) Which word wasn’t added to the OED this year?

a) Beatboxer

b) Twerking

c) Wackadoo

 

 

5) What was the Oxford English Dictionary ‘Word of the Year’ 2014?

a) Unfriend

b) Vape

c) Adorkable

 

 

6) According to the Baby Centre, what was the most popular girl’s name in the UK this year?

a) Sophia

b) Olivia

c) Miley

 

 

7) Which of these showbiz names is not real?

a) North West

b) Buzz Michaelangelo

c) Woody Donatello

 

 

8) Which of these is not a well-known cheese?

a) Stinking Bishop

b) Monterey Jack

c) Whiffy Vicar

 

 

9) Which of these is a breed of turkey?

a) Broad Breasted Bronze

b) Long Legged Silver

c) Big Bottomed Gold

 

 

So, how did you do? 1) a 2) a 3) a 4) b 5) b 6) a 7) c 8) c 9) a

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This Christmas, instead of sending ‘Ink-branded baubles’ we’ve donated our budget to The Children’s Hospice South West. This local charity makes a huge difference to the lives of terminally ill kids and their families. You can find out more about what they do here.

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When it comes to writing about alcohol, one false move can land you in hot water. You must walk the fine line between selling your product, and not promoting irresponsible behaviour.

The answer for many brands is to sell an atmosphere or tell a story. You see it all the time in TV ads and social media – but how do you then set the same mood in the limited space on back of pack copy?

Capturing the personality

As well as describing the flavour, ingredients and offering a serving suggestion, the words need to convey a brand’s identity. Just like fashion or cars, someone’s favourite tipple ‘labels’ their personality type – whether they’re a serious connoisseur or a party animal. So the tone should adjust accordingly: reflective and thoughtful for a single malt sipped after dinner; but fizzing with energetic taste metaphors for a spirit served in trendy nightclubs.

Thinking out of the bottle

Telling stories is one tried and trusted writing technique, made easier by plenty of alcohol brands possessing a genuine and interesting history. You have beer brewed in medieval monasteries. Vodkas and rums that have survived revolutions, wars and prohibition. There are even accidental discoveries to talk about: such as with Jameson’s Select Reserve when some oak barrels caught fire, and the whiskey inside was found to have picked up a pleasing smokiness.

Raising a glass to tradition

Attitudes and rituals, including how a particular drink is traditionally enjoyed at a certain time of the day, can also help with thinking up lateral ideas – and creating that one clever, all-encompassing strapline to appear on the bottle when there’s no room for any other text.

The eccentric British humour in Raise a glass to PIMMS o’clock wittily demonstrates how a drink can ‘own’ an occasion. Stella Artois invented the famous Reassuringly expensive line, which succinctly implied that the quality of the beer is reflected by its higher than average price. And Guinness’s Good things come to those who wait campaign worked as brilliantly for its TV epics as it did on cans of draught Guinness.

In fact, some of the most original, award-winning advertising copy ever written has been for alcohol brands. And for a skilful, creative copywriter, finding the right words to describe a drink on a 20cm square label can be a wonderfully satisfying challenge.

We’ll drink to that (responsibly of course).

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The English language is full of weird and wonderful phrases. With so many to choose from, it’s not surprising that we sometimes get them wrong.

Here we sort the moots from the mutes, and the fell from the foul, and explore some of our most popular ‘eggcorns’ – those linguistic turns of phrase that we just can’t quite get right.

To be on tenterhooks, not tenderhooks

This phrase, meaning ‘to feel tense’ or ‘be in a state of uneasy suspense’, originates from the cloth industry. Damp fabric is fastened to a frame, or ‘tenter’, to stretch it so it dries evenly. The cloth is attached using hooks, which wouldn’t be all that useful if they were soft and tender.

With one fell swoop, or foul?

You might say ‘with one foul swoop’ to mean something happening very suddenly. But the line is actually ‘with one fell swoop’, from Macbeth. As with other Shakespearean misquotes, such as ‘all that glitters is not gold’ (originally ‘glisters’), the mistaken quote has become more popular than the bard’s own words.

Making a moot point, not a mute point

If a point is moot, it is impractical or irrelevant. Mute points are always left unsaid.

Did it go off like a damp squib, or squid?

This phrase, which refers to something that fails to live up to expectations, leads to one of our more surreal slip-ups. A squib is a miniature explosive device that, if damp, would fail to go off. A squid – unless deep-fried with crispy batter – can reasonably be expected to be on the moist side.

Many more mistakes only appear when written down. With one wrong letter, you could end up ‘towing’ the line rather than ‘toeing it’. And if you’re waiting with ‘baited’, rather than ‘bated’ breath, your readers may think you should consider changing your toothpaste.

To avoid any confusion, it helps to have someone cast an eye over your writing. To make sure you always say what you mean.