Many years ago I left work late; on the way out through reception I grabbed a paper to read on the tube.
As usual, the Sun had gone, the only paper left was the Guardian, no one wanted that.
So I took it and turned to the sports pages to read the West Ham write up.
I found the Guardian had a very different style of sports writing to the Sun.
I still remember what they wrote: “Bonds and Lampard are the Scylla and Charybdis of the West Ham defence.”
I remember it because I didn’t know what it meant.
I’d never heard of Scylla or Charybdis, obviously they played on some European team that only sophisticated Guardian sports writers knew about.
The sentence stuck with me, why hadn’t I heard about them if they were that good?
Eventually I looked them up.
It turned out they weren’t footballers at all, they were mythical sea monsters in ancient Greek mythology.
What did that have to do with a mid-week game at West Ham?
Well, according to Homer, Odysseus had to sail his ship between Sicily and the mainland.
To do that he had to pass between Scylla on one side and Charybdis on the other.
Scylla was a deadly group of rocks, depicted as a multi-headed sea monster, Charybdis was a whirlpool.
Basically, if one didn’t get you then the other one would.
And that’s what it had to with West Ham: “Bonds and Lampard are the Scylla and Charybdis of the West Ham defence”.
Put simply, if one didn’t get you then the other one would.
Of course, if the Guardian sports writer had written it like that I’d never have remembered it after all these years.
Which is a good thing to hold in mind about writing.
She could have written: “With Bonds and Lampard you are on the horns of a dilemma”.
Or: “Bonds and Lampard is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Or: “Bonds and Lampard is like choosing between a rock and a hard place.”
But she didn’t, she wrote it that way because she considered her audience.
You couldn’t mention Scylla and Charybdis in the Sun because Sun readers wouldn’t have a clue (like me) what she’s talking about.
But the Guardian isn’t the Sun, all Guardian readers went to university, so they all know who Scylla and Charybdis are.
That’s why the Guardian requires a more educated standard of writing than the Sun.
The Sun was a quick laugh for working people who liked a joke in the pub (like me).
The Guardian considered itself, and its readers, to be much more thoughtful.
Which is why even football must be presented differently in those two papers.
Same product, but different audience.
In the Sun it’s tribal, in the Guardian it’s genteel, I appreciate that.
I appreciate someone who can change gear according to the audience.
Most ordinary, working people aren’t reading the Guardian, so you don’t cater for them.
Ordinary people haven’t got time to plough through acres of flowery language, they want the facts, fast.
But there are people who love what they consider quality writing.
We need to understand both, when and where they are appropriate.
We need to consider not just the product or brand, but more particularly the audience.
That’s real targeting, that’s our job.
Targeting is more than some automated media algorithm saying where the ads should run.
It’s making sure we write different ads for different people in different media.