Why is most copywriting in Israel so dismal?

I don't know. That's the long and the short of it. Before I post my rapturous report on British copywriting, I'll treat you to a few examples of dismal local stuff:

1. Executive Suites?
On the site of Rishon LeZion's old central bus station, a few towers are being erected. Presumably, the ground floor is earmarked for business, while the remaining floors are residential. The building company, Tzarfati-Central , has been advertising in the local papers (Gal Gefen etc) for weeks.
Since I'm a compulsive reader of ads and marketing blurb, I read the ad attentively, though I'm really not looking for a flat.
The title, above the graphic representation of the future residential tower, says:

דירות מנהלים יוקרתיות
בנות 2.5 חדרים
במרכז ראשון לציון

[Literally: Prestigious Executive Apartments
of 2.5 rooms
in the center of Rishon LeZion]

The text at the bottom goes on to describe the perfect, prestigious 2.5 room "dirat menahalim".
I couldn't help but wonder: Who is this ad aiming at? Who's the target audience? What on earth kind of menahalim would want or need a two-and-a-half room flat in the old center of Rishon?
What is a "dirat menahalim", anyway? An executive apartment? I walk past the building site several times a week. The tower is currently 15 storeys high and counting, with four apartments per floor. Does Rishon really have dozens of "executives", or managers, who don't have where to stay the night, who can't travel back to their homes in far-away West Rishon, or Rehovot, or maybe even as far north as Tel Aviv, and need a special flat?... Or is dirat menahalim a euphemism for an apartment for one's mistress?... Or a place to hold meetings? I was totally mystified.

Well, I guess Tzarfati-Central aren't as dumb as I thought. They realized something was wrong with their ad. Maybe no executive picked up the phone…
Within a short time, the heading of the ad was changed, to read:

2.5 במרכז העיר. מושלם לכולם.
[I.e.: 2.5 in the center of town. Perfect for everyone.]
And underneath:
מתחם המגורים צרפתי סנטרל מציג בפניכם את הדירה המושלמת: דירת 2.5 חדרים שתתאים לכל שלב בחיים.
[Literally: the Tzarfati Central residential complex is introducing the perfect apartment: a 2.5 room apt that's suitable for every stage of your life.]

Guys, Tzarfati-Central, did you think this out carefully? Who buys brand-new 2.5 room flats these days, except pensioners going into a seniors' residence?.. Suitable for every stage in life? That's spreading it a bit thick…
Oh well. Why do I bother.

Dismal copywriting, Part II

Banks and insurance companies have plenty of resources. Big advertising budgets. They spend a fortune on ads. They nonetheless often come up with the most lackluster copy. But what happens when they want the ad to run also in the English language press?...

Years ago, when I worked for Bank HaPoalim's International PR department, my boss and I took copywriting very seriously. The department employed English-language copywriters and marketing writers. Or if the advertising agency provided an English version of an ad, my boss Sharon Gefen and I pored over it, agonized over the wording, and produced reasonably good stuff.

I don't know what Bank HaPoalim's practices are these days. But I saw the English version of their most recent ad before I saw the Hebrew. Once again, I flinched.
The huge ad, which appears in the Jerusalem Post and god knows where else, must have cost a fortune. (I don’t suppose the J. Post advertising department would tell me, if I called to ask how much.) The copy reads: Your money works for sure.


I can't blame the English translator. Unfortunately, I recently happened to find out how the J. Post translates at least some of the ads it carries: it gets the Hebrew version from the client, and pays some poor sod who does not insist on decent wages to translate the ad. The poor translator (who will remain poor if he/she continues to work for such abysmal rates) is given about 10 minutes in which to translate and send the stuff back to the draconian person in charge, who is likely to complain "what took you so long???"

As I studied those five words, "your money works for sure", I tried to do a back-translation and guess what the Hebrew was. Turns out is was just as lame as I thought:
הכסף שלך עובד בטוח

The ad was created by Gitam BBDO. I am sure their services don't come cheap. I know Israel has smart and creative copywriters, both in Hebrew and in English. So how come the agency can't come up with brilliant copy?...

Enough kvetching for one day. Next: Examples of British copywriting.

Nikolai V. Gogol Revisited

Warning: Spoiler below

The jury (of one) is in: Nikolai Gogol does not constitute escapist reading.

Yes, it is masterfully written; yes, it is scathing social satire and it can make you laugh. But as far as I (the jury) am concerned, none of this compensates for the basic cruelty underlying the story.

I simply couldn't bear to continue reading it.

After everything Arkady Arkakievich went through to acquire this precious warm coat, he is assaulted, his coat is stolen, he's bullied and humiliated by the authorities, and then he catches pneumonia and dies! My heart simply aches for him. I refuse to continue reading. I am told that his ghost continues to haunt other characters in the story. Serves them right. But a ghost's revenge is not good enough for me.

Maybe some day I'll feel strong enough to read the entire story and enjoy it for its pure literary merits plus social/philosophical commentary or what-have-you. But for now, Gogol is being banished to a shelf with Chekhov. He, too, breaks my heart with his stories, and I refuse to read any more of them until further notice.

Not-so-escapist reading, Take 2

And this time, I ran into trouble with an English translation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I bought the book The Woman Destroyed(1), which is a collection of three long short stories: The Age of Discretion, The Monologue, and The Woman Destroyed. So far, I've only read the first.

It's a good story, no doubt about that. But I had difficulty reading it because the translation was bumpy. I could feel the French trying to break through the contrived-sounding English. There is something to be said for a translation sounding a bit "quaint"; it adds to the foreign flavor. Obviously, I don't want to read a work of fiction by an eminent French writer, featuring distinctively French protagonists and a plot that takes place in Paris and environs, but sounding like something from the pen of Fay Weldon or Eudora Welty

Some people claim they can identify a film as being French even without hearing the dialogue, because of its special air; I often feel the same about French fiction – vive la difference.
So, it's okay for a translated story or novel to feel French… it's not okay for it to be bumpy or unclear.

The first bump was already in the title. Since I haven't yet read the third story, I don't know how "destroyed" the woman is. But my eldest, who recommended the book to me, said the Hebrew translation is called Isha Shvura(2), literally "a broken woman", while the original French is La Femme Rompue. I don't remember encountering the verb rompre in my 5 years of French way back in high school & university, and the dictionary definitions in French and in English weren't much help:

1° cesser d'entretenir des relations amicales avec quelqu'un.
2° briser, enfoncer par une forte poussée.
3° se séparer, se briser.
4° séparer, briser.

Broken, snapped, tired out, overwhelmed, etc.

According to the explanation of my colleague A.R., in this context "shvura" was probably closer to the writer's meaning than "destroyed". I don't know. But this mere not-knowing bothers me and gets in the way of my enjoyment of the text.

Further bumps quickly ensued. I just couldn't help feeling that the translation was lacking; not smooth; occasionally even jarring. There were quite a few unnecessary its littering the text, that seemed to stem from the French use of y. One of those things an editor should have ironed out.

An example that had me baffled is the following:
The unnamed protagonist, a woman who has just turned sixty or is in her early sixties, is talking about her mother-in-law, whom her husband just phoned: "She is sound in wind and limb and she is still a furious militant in the ranks of the Communist Party;"
I stopped dead in my tracks. Sound in wind and limb? Perhaps the translator meant spirit? Or mind? As in "sound in body and mind"? How on earth could he use "wind" instead of mind or spirit? What does the French source say?

Since I couldn't find the answer online, I wondered what the prolific Hebrew translator, Miriam Tivon, made of it.
Surprise, surprise. The Hebrew makes no mention either of wind or of mind or spirit:

"היא עומדת איתן על רגליה וראייתה תקינה; היא פעילה נמרצת בשורות המפלגה הקומוניסטית
[Transcription: Hee omedet eytan al ragleiha u-re'iyata tekina.]
What does good eyesight have to do with wind?... Can the French be so ambiguous, that one translator saw fit to translate it as eyesight and another thought that "wind" fits the bill?...

If any of you can solve this mystery for me, I'd be grateful.
Meanwhile, I will eventually read the other two stories in this volume, when I need a break from my usual escapist reading… After all, I recently got back from London, where I picked up two Darwins and a Ward/Brownlee that are waiting for me…


(1) Translated by Patrick O'Brian, Flamingo Publishers, 1984
(2) מצרפתית מרים טבעון, זמורה, ביתן - מוציאים לאור, 1984