Step away from the Thesaurus

Whilst at work recently, I overheard a funny but quite insightful exchange between two colleagues.
A young Irish junior planner turned to his Dutch senior mentor and exclaimed “Do you know what, there are so many advertising terms which Microsoft Word does not recognise”, the simply beautiful response from the senior planner to his inquisitive junior was “…and rightly so, it’s the language of wank”.

This thought has been bouncing around in my head in every meeting ever since…
The advertising industry’s end product is “communication”, often manifesting as beautiful copy (words), concisely and stylishly communicating something to a person.  So, why is it that when talking to clients, we as advertisers use such a mind-boggling, sometimes utterly meaningless taxonomy of horse-shit?

I am a lover of words, more so than the average joe. From Stephen Fry to Niccolo Machiavelli to Martin Tyler I genuinely enjoy words and language. When it comes to the industry in which I work, I can be frequently found boring friends to death quoting copy which I’ve seen plastered on billboards or recounting witty quips from the back covers of magazines. Yet, as I progress further in my career, I am beginning to choke on the dialogue within the ad industry.
Maybe I feel like this because I am an Analyst, a position which is measured by one’s ability to communicate complexity in a simple, effective way, or maybe it’s because… the dialogue is getting worse!

The best example I can give for this is a client meeting where a colleague stated “You’re right, it is all about engagement, but the human traction we get from that will result in substantial collateral, albeit intangible – the value of which can be drawn on at will”.

I wanted to scream. I’d read the proposition and the suggested creative execution of the campaign and it was top notch, the client should have been loving it, but in a matter of 4 seconds, everyone in the room was now lost and suspicious thanks to a collection of words masquerading as a sentence, delivered by a desperate adman.

As I left the meeting I heard the words of the beloved ad industry writer Bob Hoffman ringing in my ears… “There is no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he’s missing a trend”. This is what drives our ludicrous choice of words, a desperate desire to “remain fresh”, “stay abreast” and “push the envelope”.
Whilst I agree the pioneering and ambitious aspect of advertising makes it great, I argue it is also contributing to some damaging choices, like the language we use.

Ultimately, can’t we just talk about the incredible work that we as advertisers produce instead of feeling the need to oversell everything, grabbing the thesaurus for every other word.

Being masters of communication isn’t a test of who knows the longest words. We should talk like people, not like cliches.
Lets apply the discipline we do with our creativity to the board room with clients.
Lets not be clever with clients, lets be useful.

Having ranted about this topic sufficiently, I feel it appropriate to end on a positive with some of the most fantastic, cheeky and compelling ad copy ever written, lets apply this level of discipline to all our communication…


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2 thoughts on “Step away from the Thesaurus

  1. Well put and fabulous examples, as well.
    I always get a bit of the “first world problems” vibe from articles like this since the situation in non-English speaking countries is much worse: at least all of you guys have the same dictionaries (presumably). Most ad and marketing types in other European countries fall into the trap of simply hijacking the terms du jour from English, without bothering to settle on a common definition, let alone try to translate it and thus be forced to actively consider the meaning of the drivel they spout.

    I can only imagine what an excercise in frustration it is for a client to try and make sense of it all, especially if they have no interest or knowledge of the argot.

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