Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

We Need To Talk About Phone Systems

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Imitation may be greatest form of flattery, but satire can move it to a whole new level.

Steve Coogan’s Christmas tie-in – the excellent Partridge auto-biography – almost shares the name of Lionel Shriver’s most celebrated novel, and the replacement of “Alan” for “Kevin” is a bit of a masterstroke linguistically. There’s something brilliantly self-regarding about Norwich’s best-loved radio son appropriating the branding of a critically acclaimed story. Not just because it’s far more highbrow than he’ll ever be, but because the original narrative is a high-stakes tale of a murdering sociopath, in contrast to the hilariously banal meanderings of a regional broadcaster who briefly hit the fictional big time.

But I would argue that borrowing a pre-existing sentence fragment is not always such a great idea, or shows you to your best as a writer when you are looking to brand your own screenplay or TV pitch, or create a tagline or strapline in a piece of copy or advertising. In fact, piggy-backing your concept – whether it’s a product (“Phone Systems”), property (“Mywebsite.com”), or the host of Mid-Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital – into a ready-made and recognisable linguistic pattern like a book title could even be seen as cheating.

(It needn’t be “Phone Systems”, incidentally. It could be Coca-Cola or the Liberal Democrats or Your Wire-style Hardnosed Detective Character , but for the benefit of our commercial sponsors, as explained in the previous blog, we’re going to use the words Phone Systems as our example.)

For a start, there’s the chance that the line you’ve used isn’t quite so famous as you think it is.

There’s a conspiracy documentary available online which posits how Neil Armstrong never really made his one small step – a kind of non-fiction Capricorn One. It’s called  A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon. But you surely have to be a certain age or musical inclination these days to get the link to the1966Stephen Sondheim show (where the storyline occurs en route to the Forum). And if the audience doesn’t recognise the reference, then why not give the Apollo film an unforgettable identity all its own? Especially when the “controversial” (i.e. made-up) events didn’t take place on the journey there, but on the lunar surface?

And that’s the second problem: there’s the possibility that your phrase doesn’t fit comfortably in the existing expression anyway.

Raiders of the Lost Phone Systems. The Good, The Bad and The Phone Systems. Close Encounters of the Phone Systems. We can all share the references here, but they still don’t make much sense.

My final objection is that a slogan well-known enough to be borrowed in this manner, is likely to be heading for cliché territory. Watergate has a lot to answer for. After Camillagate, Squidgygate, Contragate, Irangate et al, inventing “Phone Systems Gate” is not a sign of someone who makes the language sparkle.

This column is brought to you with Telephone Systems Direct

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