Innovative solutions 0, vampire squids 1

Usually, I write about bad copy on this blog, but today I give you one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

If you’re interested in the goings-on on Wall Street (which is to say, if you’re interested in whether you’ll still have a job this time next year), you’ll know it:

“The first thing you need to know about G****** S**** is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” – Matt Taibbi, “The Great American Bubble Machine”, Rolling Stone, July 2009

Brilliant, isn’t it? The urgency of “the first thing you need to know”, and its implication that this is just one of many things the author will reveal about his subject. That startling, unforgettable and now famous image of the vampire squid, which I’ve quoted numerous times at dinner parties and which is up there with chunks of Prufrock in my list of lines I could roll around my tongue all day. It’s an opening that screams “read on”.

Even better, Taibbi’s words have stung the bank that we all (even – or, rather, especially – other bankers) love to hate. Released this week, G****** S****’ 2009 Annual Report included a letter to shareholders, in which the bank defends itself against Taibbi’s accusation that it bet against its own clients.

The document reveals a G****** S**** that dances with the elderly, takes children to the zoo and “makes a meaningful contribution to the growth of businesses, local communities and the global economy” (is there any more meaningless adjective than that “meaningful”, which crops up 11 times in the document?).

A G****** S**** whose “client-focused”, “performance-driven” employees understand that “engagement furthers sustainability” (no, I’ve no idea what it means either, but it does sound vaguely like the sort of thing I’d find in a leaflet from my local Council – deliberately so, I’m sure).

Forget about the G****** S**** whose dodgy deal bankrupted Greece. This G****** S**** sprinkles its financial fairy dust on the needy of all nations. It’s a G****** S**** whose “innovative solutions” and “culture of commitment” have defended UK pensioners, built schools in California, lent a helping hand to the US’s troubled motor and aviation industries, and saved thousands of jobs in India. A G****** S**** that does what you might expect your government to do (did they not realise that when people call them Government S**** that’s not, like, in a good way?).

The document tries to depict a non-vampiric G****** S**** whose “first priority” is serving clients. But 178 pages of defensive, corporate cliché-ridden prose later and I can still picture that blood funnel, still smell that money.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson there somewhere.

4 Responses to “Innovative solutions 0, vampire squids 1”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Nattan, Clare Lynch. Clare Lynch said: New blog post: Innovative solutions or vampire squids? http://bit.ly/dAj8iI [...]

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    You can’t beat a powerful metaphor. Long, long ago, candidate George H.W. Bush described candidate Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics strategy as “voodoo economics.” Reagan won anyway, but the label stuck and was a thorn in his side for eight years. People still use the term, and I suspect people will be calling GS a vampire squid many years from now.

  3. Clare Lynch says:

    Exactly. Unfortunately, in the hands of corporate writers metaphors invariably end up mixed and mangled!

  4. Neil says:

    It’s easy for journalists to write vivid and funny stuff when you’re taking a pop at a big corporate monster. That’s not the challenge most copywriters face. It’s how to write positive and inspiring stuff about companies, products, brands and all the writerly headaches that come with trying to bring business to life with words. For me the questions is: could Matt write so well in praise of a big company? Perhaps he’s the man to rewrite the report.

    PS I’m not Mr G****** or Mrs S****. Nor do I draw from their bloody well.

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