Flying Seraph
How To Lose £500 Million In One Speech

One of the biggest crimes in my book is denigrating a customer.

How many times have you heard someone talk about a customer or their client’s customer in a less-than-flattering way?

Do they think it sounds clever or makes them seem bigger? A more impressive person?

Funny, really. Sometimes it’s clearly intended to impress. (I find it hard to believe how that might work. Maybe I’m betraying my age or simply my archaic values.)

But, when I hear someone describe customers as asses, I’m more inclined to think the person talking this nonsense is the prize ass, instead.

There are at least 2 downsides to this behavior that I can think of: Firstly, what do you think would happen if the way you spoke or wrote, denigrating a customer, got into the public domain?


I have a one-word answer for you – Ratners. (UK readers will know this one well).

Gerald Ratner of Ratners jewellery chain wiped £500 million off the value of his company in one speech. Amongst other things, he said his stores’ earrings were: ‘cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long’. This gaffe, and others – implying his customers were tasteless, undiscerning morons – gave rise to the expression: ‘Doing a Ratner’.

David Shepherd – former Brand Director of Topman – was asked in an interview to describe his target market. He said: ‘Hooligans or whatever’ and added: ‘very few of our customers have to wear suits for work. They’ll be for first interview or first court case.’

That’s the more obvious error – when what you say goes public.

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2 Rule 1 – assume anything you write or say can and will become known publicly.

The less obvious, arguably more dangerous mistake, is simply describing customers privately in an unfavourable way. Let’s say a client, or even one of my Agency colleagues were to brief in an advertising task.

Being somewhere on the range from a bit silly to a total tosser, they might describe the audience as hooligans, dropkicks or losers, say. (Now, I’ve not heard ‘hooligans’ used. But I have actually heard the latter two in past years.)

How hard have you just made it for the person you’re briefing? Do you really expect them to try their hardest to produce likeable ideas that motivate people you so clearly despise?

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2 Rule 2: Respect your audience and write/speak about them in a positive way.

If you don’t, then without realising it, you will likely not get the best your colleagues can give. Which means your investment will likely return less than it should/could.

Cumulatively, over time, you too will have inadvertently wiped a lot of potential value off your brand – only this time far more insidiously. Far less obviously. Far less measurably.

And that’s why I think anyone who describes a customer in an unflattering way is telling us more about themselves than about their customer.

Just who is the real tosser?

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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