Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

In the line of fire: advertising copy

with 7 comments

Newcastle Brown Ale

Image by NorthwestBeerGuide via Flickr

Today, I have in my sights:

  • The line of fire (and clichés)
  • Advertising copy (again)

First up: the line of fire. Enter Guy Keleny of The Independent who recently pointed this out in his newspaper’s corrections column:

Cliché of the week: We have here one of those over-familiar usages that people get wrong because they don’t know its original meaning:

Anyone with a heart is going to side with, say, hungry African children rather than Barclays’ well-paid traders – or the billionaires at Glencore, also in the firing line in recent days.

A firing line is found on a rifle range. It is the line where the shooters line up to fire. Someone who is in a position to be hit by gunfire — the metaphorical plight of the Glencore people — is not in the firing line but in the line of fire.

Which brings me to (it doesn’t really, but I can’t think of a link):

Ale and cidre

Yes, cidre. That’s French for cider. I know; you knew that.

Stella Artois’ advertising copywriters of choice came up with the following copy for its latest product, cider. Sorry, cidre:


Here’s the online ad. (Note the incorrect use of ‘complimented’ as opposed to ‘complemented’.)

But, um, the product is clearly labelled ‘Belgian cider’. (Nobody spotted that?)

Can I come up with anything better, I hear you ask? Well, *chews pencil for two seconds* why not:

Cidre: Cider re-invented.

Not brilliant, but that’s the idea they’re trying to get across. Those arty people could fancy up the ‘re’ bits in ‘cidre’ and ‘re-invented’ to underline the play on words — you get the picture.

There’s more:

Here’s the latest advertising copy being used to entice ‘urban-dwelling males’ to drink Newcastle Brown Ale (look away now if you’re feeling fragile):

The one and only drink that delivers refreshmentaste

The one and only drink that delivers flavourefreshment

‘Refreshmentaste’ is too horrible to talk about. I studied the second one for about ten minutes before I worked it out, not helped by the fact that the ad’s written in capital letters (shield your eyes): FLAVOUREFRESHMENT. I kept reading it as ‘flavour freshment’. (Maybe that’s just me.)

The aim, as quoted in The Grocer magazine, is tohighlight the drink’s win:win ability to refresh like a lager while delivering the satisfying flavours and taste of an ale’.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. Oh, wait …


Here’s some amusement to take your mind off the fact that someone trousered a considerable amount of dosh (while admiring an eminent person’s new clothes) to come up with the word ‘refreshmentaste’:

A menu translation noted in The Times a while back:

Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

Crisp copy





7 Responses

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  1. I have to get some of that wine. Sounds promising. I read “flavour freshment”, too. What’s the world coming to?


    26/05/2011 at 12:34 pm

    • Hi, momfog

      I’m glad you saw ‘flavour freshment’ too. Not just me, then! I need to stop reading ads — it’s very bad for my blood pressure.

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s nice to see you here.


      26/05/2011 at 1:06 pm

  2. Having spent about a decade in sales, I believe tautologies and illogic are essential to success in selling. It’s the “true, but so what” principle. Newcastle Ale can say it’s the one and only because it is; the one and only Newcastle Ale. Everything past “the one and only” is a kind of verbal moonwalking.

    In order to sell above a moderate level, you either have to lie outright, which is inelegant and subject to discovery, or find verbal and textual methods for obscuring reason through the entertainment of the psyche. It works so much better than boring, direct comparisons with competing product and saying “this one is superior”.

    You’ve just illustrated this point, Deborah. The slogans entertain, or at least divert. They intentionally make less sense than a rational examination of the value or effectiveness of the product.

    There is a kind of poetry involved, but I’m not a good enough poet to perform a proper deconstruction.

    (Orson Welles says, “We will sell no wine before its time”. A voice off-camera says, “Sales are in the red!” Orson replies, “It’s time.”)

    Invisible Mikey

    26/05/2011 at 1:03 pm

    • Hi, Mikey

      That was a pretty good deconstruction — thank you! You’re too modest.

      I don’t mind ‘the one and only’ — it’s the rest of it that I find distracting (not in a good way). I always think, is that the best they can come up with? Really? There are so many sharp brains working in the advertising industry — but the end result is ‘refreshmentaste’? I think the best (and most memorable) advertising slogans are always the simplest; many examples (some coined decades ago) have become part of our everyday language.

      Your Orson Welles example is very clever on a number of levels.

      Thanks, Mikey. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.


      26/05/2011 at 1:36 pm

    • A friend of mine – a REAL writer, mind, no mere corporate shill – quite enjoys his very brief forays into copywriting. He describes them as a kind of exercise and reckons that, at its best, copywriting’s a form of ‘commercial haiku’.

      There’s certainly a need for compression, distinctiveness and a less quantifiable something else, something to do with layered meaning, knowing ambiguity. (But yes, I agree,’tautologies and illogic’ do it too … )


      26/05/2011 at 7:18 pm

      • Hi, there

        I do like the term ‘commercial haiku’. You’re absolutely right about layered meaning and knowing ambiguity — not, I think, descriptions that could be applied to the two examples I’ve cited (or my off-the-cuff suggestion, come to that).

        Thanks very much for dropping by!


        26/05/2011 at 7:53 pm

  3. More on this from Guy Keleny in The Independent:

    Ready, aim… : John Hudson has written in to point out the same error in two different headlines published on Wednesday. They were “Trump’s sons in firing line over African hunting trip” and “The new victims in the firing line”.

    That should be “the line of fire”. On a rifle range the shooters line up on the firing line. There, you are safe. The dangerous place is in the path of the bullets – that is, in the line of fire.


    20/03/2012 at 1:42 pm

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