We use language every day, but sometimes our choice of words adds more uncertainty to a situation than it clarifies.
The common use of the word 'authentic' now ironically makes a paradox of the sentence its used in, and the expression 'digital nomad', once poetically descriptive, has completely stolen the objective of inventive commentary.
The Drum Network asked its members the following question: "What do you think is the worst business jargon, where complex words hide lack of knowledge, are intended to confuse, or are simply meaningless?"
Here's what they had to say:
Max Meres, editorial executive, Caliber
Reel in the big guns – here comes the swat team!
Let’s say that a company is faced with a somewhat existential threat. Thanks to modern day business jargon, the only logical solution is to “send in the designated ‘swat team’.” This isn’t Zero Dark Thirty. Don’t expect AK-47-clad Navy seals leaping from a chinook helicopter. No – this situation usually entails caffeine-loaded board members assembling in a meeting room, dissecting the problem at hand over tea and scones.
While their experience and training certainly qualifies them for the task at hand, it hardly fits the corporately derived term of a ‘swat team’. The imagery conjured just doesn’t match with reality.
Lauren Pearson, PR and marketing manager, Yard
My least favourite buzzword has got to be the word viral. “Let’s make this go viral”, “I want you to create some viral content” – it’s the worst. Going viral is not a quantifiable end result. What is it that you’re hoping to achieve here? Do you want to sell more product, get more followers on social media, encourage people to sign up to your newsletter? You could easily ‘go viral’ and not achieve any of those goals, other than the completely ephemeral result of increased brand awareness.
Dan Deeks-Osburn, head of strategy, Impero
I believe that our most dangerous piece of industry jargon is consumer. It’s a crafty little word, and we all (including myself) use it every single day.
When we talk about consumers, we remove ourselves of responsibility to people; living, breathing, walking, talking, loving, angry, anxious, conflicted, complicated people.
It’s much easier to ask consumers if they’re ‘beach body ready’ in an effort to ‘ignite the conversation’ (or whatever that was!) than it is to make your good friend, your sister, and that nice old lady down the road feel bad about themselves.
So, do your bit for advertising, and people everywhere, and stop talking about consumers; start talking about people.
Becky Baines, senior writer, Stickyeyes
Step into the financial services world and prepare to be bamboozled by an avalanche of business jargon. From LTV to YTD, unhelpful acronyms and head-scratching terms are bandied around like there’s no tomorrow. Financial products are difficult to understand at the best of times, so why use mind boggling terminology to make it more difficult for customers to get to grips with?
Matthew Davenport, writer, The Clearing
There are some obvious ones, like the nauseating ideation. Always signing off emails with 'Kind Regards' (or worse, 'KR') particularly irks. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the sentiment, it’s just that it has become a ubiquitous and tiresome footnote, devoid of feeling or any thought of what’s been said before it. “You're fired! Kind regards.” (Email has a lot to answer for in the proliferation of jargon and corporate buzz phrases.)
However, there's one that we really hate but hear all the time passionate. It seems everyone’s passionate these days. “Passionate about children” (careful); “Passionate about urinals” (gross), “Passionate about felt roofing” (really?). Presumably Durex can double down and be "Passionate about Passion"?
If you really want to stand out and differentiate your brand, you’re just going to have to try a little harder to woo. Passion just doesn’t turn us on.
Jo Hudson, planning director, PrettyGreen
What first springs to mind are the dire, everyday, made up words, like ideation. These are symptomatic of the common practice of overcomplicating the ordinary: from ‘de-integrating’ and ‘disincentivising’ to ‘populating’ and ‘pathfinders’. I once heard a colleague promise feedback “pre-tomorrow” (erm… don’t you mean today?)
However, one of the greatest abuses of language in our industry comes not from over complicating, but from over simplifying. From the neat packaging of the ‘consumer’ into standardised segments like the dreaded ‘millennials’, and the over reliance on formulas and ‘best practice’ to guide future campaigns, to, ‘success criteria’, and ‘tried and tested’ in the creative process.
So, while complex business language might be irritating, over simplified language should actually be a far greater concern.
Ricky Wallace, marketing manager, Clear People
The worst business jargon has to be the terms that are over-used to the extent that they don’t mean much to anybody at all. Digital transformation for example is a term that we have all heard, we are all aware of and something we are all apparently trying to achieve, but what is it exactly? It’s used so often and has so many different meanings to different people that it has consequently become meaningless.
Even the word 'digital' has arguably become redundant. What was once termed electronic, online, or web is now so integral to our everyday personal and professional lives that one could argue that we don’t really need to speak about digital as a separate entity in terms of an experience.
Jessica Lang, PR intern, Kaizen
On my first week of interning, I sat looking amused, but was actually confused by what I took to be an extended inside joke; my inbox was rapidly filling up with OOO [Out Of Office] emails, as it synced with the calendar.
Business acronyms have evolved to connect business people through a mutual understanding of the concept signified, but alienate those who don’t understand the meaning. They’re therefore often used without understanding the full meaning, so that the acronyms stand for a concept rather than the actual phrases that they’re shortening. The effect is that they can come across as pretentious, exclusive and over-stylised – why not just call the CEO the boss, or the KPIs the targets?
Jon Norris, head of content, RocketMill
Internal power struggles lead people to invent language in order to obfuscate or appear smarter than they actually are. Sometimes this nonsense escapes into the wider world and we all suffer for it. That said, there’s not necessarily a problem with internal jargon – in fact, in some industries it’s necessary. The important thing is that it stays internal.
The only jargon I categorically cannot abide in any situation is moving forward, which I guarantee you can be removed from any sentence without any loss of meaning.
Frederik Bensten, brand strategist, LikeFriends
It seems more and more advertising agencies are trying to adopt a more scientific profile by adding some sort of lab to their services; innovation lab, disruption lab, craft beer lab – you name it. Possibly because of the rising threat from business consultancies, maybe agencies believe they can somehow cover up for the inherent uncertainty of creative communication by becoming a group of scientists.
I’m all for experiments and innovation, but let’s embrace the uncertainty that comes with being in a creative industry.
Jo-ann Fortune, content director, iCrossing
Many business buzzwords and Americanisms are delivered with a side-helping of air quotes: "are we all 'aligned'”? "Has anyone 'reached out'”? Some warrant an extra serving of eye-roll – see: is-it-really-a noun that mutates into is-it-really-a verb: “Next step is ideation – let’s ideate!” [Translation: we’re each going to come up with some ideas. That works, doesn’t it?]
But the word we see most commonly misused, and that can cause the most confusion, has to be 'strategy'. KPIs, objectives, mission statements, tactics and best-practice documents are all arguably inputs or outputs of strategy, but none strategy in their own right.
So, are we all aligned on the fact that we should bin the jargon moving forward?
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