Emperor devoid of any protective garments
|Graham Nolan on why adland must abandon pretence by dumping wasteful gobbledygook|
It was Ricky Gervais's alter ego David Brent in The Office who said “put the key of
despair into the lock of apathy. Turn the knob of mediocrity slowly and open
the gates of despondency – welcome to a day in the average office”. This piece of genius sprung to mind when I read
research about attitudes in the workplace.
Based on interviews
with 3,000 employees, the findings showed that over two thirds of respondents wanted
to ban workplace jargon and over half of them had reached a point of
frustration with bosses who often bamboozle them with phrases like ‘brain dump',
‘joined-up thinking', ‘drilling down' and an old fetish of mine – ‘parachuting
the survey throws up is that employees are uncomfortable with jargon that
alienates them, the office cliques it fosters and a belief that jargon removes
what is fast becoming a luxury in the business environment and that is clarity.
is the distrust this has created as employees now believe that the intent of
such jargon is to ‘fudge' the message. Staff
see management as being guilty of hiding behind the waffle and people are increasingly
losing confidence in them.
evolution, marketing has established a lingo of its own. The jargon includes
terms like ‘paradigm shift', ‘emotional resonance', ‘value transfer', ‘user gen'. Marketeers have long embraced this phenomenon
and even created a game that could be played by everyone under boardroom tables
– ‘bullshit bingo'.
juggernaut has blown this out of all proportion, bringing with it a language
that many people might feel unsure about mastering. We appear to step out of the real world when
we arrive at the office and assume an alter-ego which adopts a strange Borg-like
language to get our point across, or not as the case may be.
short hand and acronyms will always have a place in the world and certainly in
marketing. But taking the learning from the UK survey and applying them to our
work in developing brands, are we starting to ‘fudge' the process of developing
brand ideas? Have we all begun to hide
behind jargon at the expense of clarity?
We have ‘tissue
meetings', ‘input meetings', ‘flash meetings' where, if we're honest, not
everyone leaves the room fully clear about the outcome, in some cases confused
about the subject matter and often none the wiser about what to do next. A big factor in this is the language employed
and how we use it. Meetings are now packed with convoluted phraseology and we
risk confusing people along the way.
I worked on
a cracking brief last year for a brand about to be squeezed into third place in
its category. A cross-functional team was assembled, research and insights were
poured over and elaborate marketing logic was applied to the problem by all
Challenger brands like Murphy’s succeed by refusing to hide behind vague marketing language but rather adopt creative ideas which are simple and frank. In this UK poster series by BBH, the only copy in the ads was: ‘In Cork, we always drink Murphy’s’.
were ‘sense checked', insights were ‘interrogated' and we tried to ‘unlock
barriers to growth' and even tried our hands at ‘thinking outside the box'. Then after a few hours, we quit the pretence
and began to speak in plain English, talk frankly about the brand, the problem
it faced and what role it played in all our lives.
and spoke just like we did outside of work. People started to relate to each
other. Everyone in the room decided to join in instead of hiding quietly in the
corner and we discussed things instead of throwing jargon around the room.
afternoon, not only had we identified the heart of the problem facing the
brand, but we cracked a big idea there and then. A new idea and less than a year later, the
brand has increased its sales by almost half and confidence is high.
fallen into the trap of hiding behind vague marketing lingo, we could simply have
identified our brands problem as loftily as “losing emotional connection with
today's modern contemporary consumer who wants to live life on his terms and
grab life by the horns”. Thankfully we didn't, we went far deeper and found
of challenger brands is to go against the grain, abandon traditional marketing practice
and logic. Through clear language, they find a distinctive positioning in their
category, while the larger mainstream brands go the complex route and
invent new marketing lingo for processes designed to lead the market.
time any of us sit around a meeting table, drowning in bullshit bingo and
feeling like the boy who wants to point out that the emperor has no clothes, we
could speak up and try a little plain speak. It might lead to somewhere constructive.
Graham Nolan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is group account director at McCann Erickson Dublin.