Stop rhyming at me!

Writing must be memorable.


But what happens when the subject you’re writing about is mundane?

‘Please move down inside the carriages’, for example.

How do you make that message engaging?


Well, according to its ‘Travel Better London’ campaign, TFL seems to think that rhyming is the answer.

It’s not.

I find this naïve rhyme patronising.

So why have TFL resorted to rhyming?

Because, after a series of strikes and public squabbles, and a general decline in the reputation of our public institutions, they’ve lost the authority to speak in a clear and direct voice.

Is there a better answer?

1970s psychological theories are full of spurious ideas, but in amongst them is a good theory for writers.

It’s called Transactional Analysis. It’s a useful framework for analysing tone of voice.

At any one time, the speaker is in one of 3 states: Parent, Adult or Child.

The listener is also in one of these 3 states: Parent, Adult or Child.

Transactional Analysis TOV

The key to a successful (‘complementary’) transaction is that the speaker matches your expectations.

For example, if you tell a doctor that your arm hurts, and ask him what’s wrong, you are in a Child state, and you’re hoping that he will respond as an experienced, expert Parent.

The problem comes when the speaker violates your expectations.

You don’t want your doctor to say “Not sure. What do you think?”

This would imply an equal, Adult to Adult relationship, as if you knew as much about human physiology as he does.

The TFL campaign is irritating because it’s speaking Parent to Child, and that doesn’t work for me: I want to be spoken to as an adult, by an adult.


I expect an Adult to Adult transaction, because I know how to behave in public.


Is it really a good idea for TFL to position its passengers as a naïve Child?

As a client of ours said, “are they seriously telling me not to put my ‘feeties’ on the ‘seaties’?”

We make sure that brands make sense. If you want to be sure that your brand’s language fits your brand’s strategy, email Chris.