Words get stripped of their meaning if used too often.
There is a phrase for this- semantic satiation: a word progressively loses its potency through over repetition. The marketing business positively over flows with such words and phases as Brand, Engagement, Target Audience, Core Values and, my particular bug bear, Content.
The C word is very hot now and turbo charged by all manner digital marketing.
Does this overuse of certain words matter?
I think it does – because we stop thinking about what words mean. They cease to have a personal impact and pass into the territory of important sounding positive buzz words that we can intone in the sure knowledge that we will not be challenged to say exactly what we mean.
Words become something we can hide behind or just a way of a particular group of people signaling that they belong the same professional tribe.
Flatulent language leads to sloppy thinking. So at the risk of farting in church ( as one Australian Creative Director put it to me ) I am going to suggest some alternatives to our most overused words.
Can we ban the Brand word?
Probably not- Brand is written into the valuation of too many companies. Yet Brands are things companies own with famous logos that people can hide behind.
What if we used the word Reputation more often? Reputation is personal – it is precious thing and can be won or lost depending on how you behave. “Your reputation is at stake” sounds like something I should worry about. “The brand is at stake” sounds like something that other people might worry about.
Can we ban the Values word?
It is a very high-flown word for an activity, which should be daily and down to earth. Going on about Brand Values is all very well if you are John Lewis or Apple but most companies do not have clear brand values that staff can understand and live up to. What if we used two old fashioned words like civility and decency. Decency as Orwell said is that “intuitive sense of morality that exists among common people.” It was what we expect and hope for from each other – it’s therefore a guide to behavior that anyone can understand.
Engagement used to be lovely word (as in “engaged to be married”) but now it has been taken over by agencies who are using it a version of “soft selling.” Most people can spot the difference between pretend engagement to make a sale or the real thing.
Real engagement normally starts with listening or empathy because you cannot engage without understanding. This may lead you to offer advice that is objective, timely and helpful. Or it may lead you to give pleasure and entertainment as a release from the grind of daily life. It may be a genuine act of generosity with no immediate expectation of a return. Most people can spot a bribe -it is a transaction not an engagement.
Which brings me to my pet hate- the C word- Content.
It has never been a good word. It suggests yet more digital detritus being pumped out to an indifferent world.
Would you like more branded content, madam?
What I really want is something that interests me or is relevant to me – like entertainment, rewards, advice, ideas, pleasure, excitement, things worth sharing, the inside track.
But please not more Branded Content.
Now ,It is not easy to replace the C word as it is a portmanteau term without a ready synonym. But it manages to be both bland and flatulent. My modest proposal is that we ban it.
There is a free lunch on offer to anyone who can come up with a better word.