The Naked Truth About Advertising, Underwear and Valentines Day

Underwear is a popular Valentines Day gift but what message does it give?

This time of year our shop Your Life Your Style is full of hearts. Glass coasters with hearts fused into them, heart shaped cushions, handmade cards with stuck on hearts… other shops have enough flowers, chocolates and romantic CDs to fill Westminster Abbey. All intended to show we love someone this coming Monday.

Underwear seems a popular choice as a Valentines Day gift but I’m not certain it’s a good idea. I’ve been wondering how men who receive Marks & Spencer’s new BodyMax underwear will feel. To remind you, this is a new range intended to make a man’s abs more flat, his bum more firm, and his maleness… just plain more. All those years your wife or girlfriend has been saying size doesn’t matter and suddenly she buys you ‘frontal enhancement’ underpants.

It’s worse still if you buy them for yourself. The trouble with all these body changing clothes, for men or women, is that, once you’ve attracted your potential mate with a bulging crotch or uplifted padded boobs, there comes an inevitable moment of truth. Your pants go down and the mountain brings forth a mouse. The bra comes off and your man’s face drops along with a couple of other things. I suppose we hope that by then our partner will be so overcome by passion, they’ll forgive the deception. Or maybe we just make rely on everything looking better by candlelight.

In business we have no such luxury. The law doesn’t allow us to pretend our product or service is one thing and then hope once the customer has bought it, they’ll just accept the disappointing reality. Nor would it be good business sense. Contrary to a widespread public perception, advertising is not about lying. The industry regulator the Advertising Standards Authority even says in its core statement that advertisements in print, TV and radio must be ‘honest, decent and legal’. It’s about to get tougher for businesses because from 1st March the ASA is taking on complaints about websites.

Shops shouldn’t need legislation to make us honest because truth is our biggest marketing tool. I’ve always found that if you are honest about your products, describing them accurately, admitting their limitations, even sending customers elsewhere if that is their best bet, and apologising when you get something wrong, your customers will trust you and come back to you again and again.

These days, all good websites allow customers to comment on products and service from the mighty Amazon to our own little (and only slightly enhanced) Your Life Your Style. We don’t always like what is said but it shows customers we have nothing to hide and it is an additional spur to be clear and accurate about what we promise.

Of course you can’t satisfy everybody and we’re all entitled to an opinion. One customer gave a poor review to our ‘rabbit’ draught excluder. There was nothing wrong with its quality but she didn’t like his slightly mad expression! Still, at least we didn’t pretend it was a bigger size.

This article also appeared on the Daily Echo website

Let The Great Poets Inspire You

This article also appeared on the Southern Daily Echo website and on

Fused Glass Heart Coaster from Your Life Your Style

With Valentines Day approaching, I’ve been busy updating the Romantic Quotes page of our website I introduced it to help inspire customers looking for words to go with their gifts.

I know lots of us find it difficult to put our feelings into words. So often you end up with clichés or simply something that doesn’t really express what we really feel.

Great poets have the ability to find images and combinations of words that get to the heart of our emotions and make a connection with us. Apart from Shakespeare who unfortunately has become a cliché, I particularly like e.e. cummings’ poem that begins ‘I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)’ and Khalil Gibran’s ‘Life without love is like a tree without blossom and fruit.’

The best song lyrics do the same when they’re not rhyming ‘moon’ and ‘June’. I love the way Ira Gershwin expresses the way romantic love combines little things, memories and the deepest feelings:

‘The way you hold your knife / The way we danced til three / The way you changed my life / No, they can’t take that away from me.’ But then I am an old romantic.

Being romantic and funny is the hardest challenge. The late Hovis Presley had the Northern talent for veiling deep emotions with humour:

‘I rely on you like a camera needs a shutter / like a gambler needs a flutter / like a golfer needs a putter / like a buttered scone involves some butter / I rely on you’.

Even writers such as journalists or advertising copywriters, whose work is not likely to be remembered beyond the weekend, have to emulate the immortals by finding the right words and eschewing clichés if they want to make a connection with their readers. The greatest love of my working life has been writing copy but sadly I could never get near the genius of Ira Gershwin- or even Hovis Presley.

I always enjoy copywriting, so if you need any help with sales letters, press releases, website text or brochure copy, drop me an email at

The New Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is your most valuable marketing tool, which is good news and bad news. The good news is that it works so well because it’s authentic. The bad news is, you can’t fake it.

If you’ve got an email or postal list of people who like your product enough to sign up, you have a massively valuable tool. Encourage people to sign up to your mailing list with an offer, something that will appeal to those genuinely interested in what you have to offer. In other words, don’t offer an M&S voucher or everyone will sign up. If you’re selling theatre, offer a ticket discount voucher or a free programme. Actually most people will sign just to be better informed, so offer a regular newsletter.

So how do you turn your email or mailing list into word-of-mouth? People love to share good things with their friends because it gives them kudos. So, one way is to encourage the email recipient to forward it to a friend.

Your website is another great way to generate word-of-mouth. Give visitors the opportunity to send the page. Encourage comments and conversations on your products or services. Track comments being made elsewhere on the web and join in conversations about your product. However, you must be upfront about who you are – pretending to be a disinterested person can be very damaging, as a top Hollywood production company found out!

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook give yet more opportunities to engage with your best customers and build up loyalty among the people most likely to spread the word by re-tweeting and sharing. Again the rule is, don’t sell- just chat. But never forget this is part of your marketing: many a tweeter has come unstuck by making an unguarded comment.

‘Bring A Friend’, as in letting your loyal customers give discount vouchers to their friends, works well because sending a gift really impresses.

Puppy Dogs’ Tales

The ‘Puppy Dog’ technique is an excellent way to encourage a wavering customer into buying. The idea is that you say ‘try it- if you like it keep it, if you don’t bring it back.’ If you’re product’s any good, the chances are they’ll fall in love with the cute little fellow.

Samples are another method of stimulating sales when customers are uncertain. You know how you can go to your local supermarket on a Saturday morning and stuff enough free samples down your throat to see you through to supper? People taste the product and quite a few not only buy it again but tell their friends and family that they were given something nice at the supermarket.

How did we apply that when I worked in theatre? My own experience was that CDs and even DVDs didn’t really make an impression. Giving away tickets for the whole event somehow defeated the object. Fortunately, show business already had a tried and tested solution. If you have a lesser known artist, put them into a show as a support or get a sample of a stage show or act into an awards ceremony, charity fundraiser or festival. Group sales are vital so, if you’re selling a touring show, take group organisers on trips to see the original or the tour launch.

Or… a personal appearance. An interview accompanied by a photo or a recorded extract from a show is an ideal way to enthuse a potential attender into a ticket buyer. Having said that, there are a number of bricks that must be in place. The interviewee must make the show sound like it’s worth seeing. Enthusiasm, amusing anecdotes and a clear description of the show are all de rigeur.

I’ve been surprised how often a performer is unprepared to perform in an interview or else is so scripted they persuade no-one. Go through likely questions and have snappy answers. It’s not a chat!  The interviewee must know what needs to be said and make sure they say it. Ditto you must have top quality production shots, video or sound recordings available

Handle with Care

Don’t sabotage one of your best sales tools

Given the value of a mailing list, it’s astonishing how little care some people take with it.

Please, don’t send unsolicited emails- it is actually illegal to send emails to someone who hasn’t opted in to your list, unless they are a customer. It is OK to send emails to people who have purchased from you but pestering them with emails is not the way to win friends.  It’s also good business practice because you get reported to ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as a spammer if you don’t.  For the same reason, make it easy to unsubscribe.

Always send your emails from the web address you say it is.  You may only be trying to be helpful because the address you are sending from is a bit obscure but, since this is what people trying to steal your bank details do, you are likely to be identified as a spammer.  Spam filters will also pick up on certain words like ‘free’ and ‘discount’ because they sound like sales letters.

Once you are identified as a spammer (and apparently it takes very few bad reports), you may find yourself banned by your ISP or blocked by others.  And that’s completely for all emails from your domain.