William Tunstall-Pedoe

 William Tunstall-Pedoe

 William Tunstall-Pedoe

Terrible Business Slogans

One source of occasional amusement during my travels is the wonderful English language slogans many east Asian businesses chose to associate with themselves.

English is spoken natively almost nowhere in this region but it is widely used as a lingua franca. Furthermore, an English slogan perhaps gives the enterprise an international aura that would be difficult with the native language. In such a context, the actual meaning of the slogan isn’t that important and as virtually all their customers only know English as a second language the nuances and alternative meanings that a native speaker would pick up on are largely irrelevant.

This must explain the hilariously poor choices (from a natively speaker’s perspective) that are so common.

My favourite example is a SE Asian soft goods manufacturer that chose to emphasise the importance they place on their high manufacturing standards by proudly attaching a tiny label to all their products (bags etc.) saying simply:

“The Quality is Basic”

It isn’t just small enterprises either. Lion Air an internal airline in Indonesia (on which I’ve travelled) proudly brands everything they own with their amazing slogan:

“We Make People Fly”

But such a terrible choice of slogan couldn’t affect an organisation in the UK could it? I mean, before any slogan here can be adopted it would have to pass through the critical faculties of numerous native speakers. Very large organisations pay consultancy firms literally hundreds of thousands of pounds (or more) to come up with and carefully test the effect of their choices on their target market even before the board sits down and debates the final decision.

This is what I thought until last weekend when I decided to make a quick trip to my local Royal Mail sorting depot to collect a package they hadn’t been able to fit through the door the day before.

I arrived a couple of minutes before the closing time shown on the card and was about to step through the door to join the (smallish) queue that had built up of people collecting their mail only to have my way blocked by a disgruntled looking Royal Mail employee who without any form of apology or further explanation other than the words “we’re closed” literally slammed the door in my face as I was trying to step through (almost breaking my fingers in the process).

I was joined a few seconds later by two other members of the public who had also turned up to collect their packages. They too were rudely turned away, they too were sure they had arrived before the closing time on the card and they too decided to politely press the matter rather than meekly going back home empty handed. In response to this I had the experience of witnessing the worst behaviour I’ve seen in any public employee, ever. That useful American phrase “attitude problem” doesn’t even begin to do him justice.

It would have cost him just a few seconds to let us in and collect our packages but instead he chose to stand in the doorway while the other members of the public in the queue was still collecting theirs and systematically abuse the three of us including repeated threats to call the police and have us arrested; refusal to bring the manager down to talk to us; refusal to tell us his name or how we could complain; repeated patronising lectures about how the UK ran on GMT and how he was surprised that none of us had heard of it (I chose to ignore the fact we are actually on BST at the moment); refusal to tell us the name of the manager that ran the sorting office; classic “job’s worth” speeches about how he had been working since 7am, how he didn’t care about us but how he wanted to get home as early as possible etc. etc. etc. etc.

He managed to reduce all three of us to state of cold fury and meant that in addition to having a wasted trip I felt compelled to waste another hour of my time drafting a complaint to Royal Mail in the hope it might do some good. The last I saw of the other two poor Royal Mail customers was them also desperately trying to scrawl down some details from the notices displayed outside the building in the hope it would give them an idea who to complain to.

On going home I took a closer look at the “sorry you were out” notice that the postman had put through my door.

There, right at the top, proudly displayed under the Royal Mail logo was the organisation’s latest slogan. Here it is in all its glory (scanned straight from the card):

“With us it’s personal”

I can’t imagine a better four word summary of that employee’s attitude to his job!