An email marketing template I received recently:
… is a leading provider of web-based multi-channel distributed marketing automation software that allows organizations to more efficiently manage the complex needs of a distributed, multi-channel marketing approach through a single integrated platform. Corporate and local marketers, field sales, and marketing partners can efficiently create, store, localize, manage and measure marketing communications across multiple channels. Our platform has been proven to deliver results in a multitude of industries, including insurance, financial services, bio-pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and many more.”
Twenty-five years ago I hosted an evening radio show called Doublespeak. My purpose was to explore the meaningless double-talk people increasingly use instead of simply stating their mind. My source material was an increasing supply of news articles that conveyed no information, interviews filled with innuendo, and business marketing that worked hard to saying as little as possible about a product or service.
Twenty-five years later, I’m convinced we’ve perfected the art of doublespeak.
When did we come to believe that the more complex the wording, the more valueble the message? Wordiness has become the goldfish of modern communications. Worse, made-up words have been normalized, synergized, localized and utilized, as if benefits came from syllables, hyphens, and exclamation marks alone. The central tenet of marketing seems to be: Pile on. Add so many words to your message (and if on television, scream them loudly at the viewer), that consumers will be crushed under the importance of your offer.
It’s not just marketing, either.
We’re drowning in words, bullet points and slides. Twitter, the pinnacle of micro blogging is considering more characters, as tweets with “1 of 5, 2 of 5, etc.” proliferate. You can record a video into Instagram and your voice into Facebook Messenger, because somehow we can’t just say what we mean, short and sweet, any more.
Now consider the quote from the marketing template above. Did you read past the second sentence? Try again, if just to enjoy the concept of a “bio-pharmaceutical industry.” Because pharmaceutical industry didn’t suffice.
Words, used merely for sounds, lose all value.
As a photographer, I know the old maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. But that doesn’t mean those words replaced were originally meaningless. The goal in any communication is to tell a story. To write an ad that communicates a value to someone. To make a sales presentation that openly states the meaning of the proposal. To have a conversation that makes sense without a hipster thesaurus.
Take a pen to any recent advertisement or magazine article. Slash the meaningless adjectives and weighty adverbs, and chop every other hyphenation you find. What remains may be a few hundred words of value in a once multi-page spread. Maybe less.
When I took this photo of a Nespresso shop in Berlin, it occurred to me that they, too, had missed the essential point of storytelling. With all of their wonderful colors, they still thought it necessary to make up words for their flavors. The bold one is Audacio, the vanilla is Vanizio, and the carmel-colored one, Caramelizio, of course. If you order a dozen mixed pods, you almost sound like you’re having a sneezing fit in Italian.
Ironically, none of the fancy words matter.
At any Nespresso store, if you want to sample a flavor, simply say the color of the pod, The product itself proves its point when you taste it. Later, when you refer a favorite flavor to a friend, you’ll just tell them to buy the “blue pods” or the “caramel-colored” ones.
Explaining your value shouldn’t be complicated. Your professional bio shouldn’t sound like the Wikipedia entry for the Hadron Collider. Your marketing material shouldn’t sound like you’ll unravel the Rosetta Stone. To refer you, a satisfied client should be able to tell your story, without hyphenations, implied italics or the need to curl their fingers around faux-quotes in the air.
Your message should be as clear as caramel.