BIZWORDS AND BUZZWORDS

For more than twenty years I wrote the Bizwords column for British Airways’ Business Life magazine. The series, which  highlighted examples of the most topical, colourful or outrageous jargon circulating in the corporate world, has just ended, but in its memory here are some of the last items published…

 

REPLICABILITY

What had once been a technical term – for the successful reduplication of test results – or a neutral definition – the ability to recreate a product, service or environment – threatened to become a dirty word in 2016. Replicability came to symbolise second – or perhaps third – thoughts by many progressives concerning the hipster design aesthetic and its global spread. Retro logos, distressed decors, artisan micro-brands and wired-up, gentrified workplaces, copied and imitated across markets and cultures have resulted in what columnist Kyle Chayka dubbed ‘AirSpace’, a faux-authentic, frictionless zone through which an affluent mobile elite can travel (checking for local recommendations from apps like Fourspace or Yelp, then Instagramming their discoveries to friends) without ever really leaving home territory. The replicated style, which, though much-mocked since its inception, once defined a desire for difference and originality, has morphed into a new all-enveloping mainstream.

 

 LEAD-MAGNET

Image result for lead magnet funnel

 Digital Marketing is a non-stop – and seemingly unstoppable – generator of new terminology, so agencies must help novices to keep up by posting glossaries of the latest buzzwords. Turning prospects into leads into actual customers involves, in the jargon, directing traffic to your landing page (ideally frictionless) or welcome gate which is likely to feature a lead-magnet, aka opt-in bribe, a benefit such as a free consultation, free trial, discount offer, or a content-upgrade like a toolkit or guide to induce the visitor to give you their contact details. That is a conversion, the start of a relationship with the site visitor who should then go on to register with you, follow you on social media and/or purchase something. (Measure success by your conversion rate, failure by your bounce-rate). The series of steps you use to draw in the customer, from ads via webpages through interactions all the way to payment is known as the funnel.

 

W.E.I.R.D

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If a colleague tells you that your target demographic is WEIRD, will you know how to react? The letters of the acronym stand for ‘western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic’ and are used to point up a crucial flaw in the studies of human behaviour underpinning much global marketing. The problem is that the samples on which assumptions are based are not representative: ‘Westerners’ are thought to make up around 96% of respondents in psychological studies, US citizens at least 68%. W.E.I.R.D subjects tend to be outliers, exceptions, in terms of many traits such as visual and spatial perception, notions of fairness, cooperation – even in how to design and respond to survey questionnaires. Differences between so-called traditional or collectivist societies and the individualist west are well-known, but even within a modern multiculture like the US, UK or Australia ‘human’ responses vary according to ethnicities, microcultures and niches. Still searching for universals, analysts now have to grapple with the much more complex reality evoked by their latest buzzword: superdiversity.

 

CLIMATARIAN

A raft of novel foodie expressions reflects the huge impact of the gastronomy economy (not to be confused with economy gastronomy which is one such term meaning luxury cooking on a budget). The progressive connoisseur and the green militant have recently come together in the form of the climatarian, an activist consumer who combats climate change by favouring poultry, pork and sustainable fish instead of CO2 culprits beef, lamb or venison, insists on unfrozen produce from sources close at hand to counter refrigeration and transport emissions and uses 100% of every meal by processing skin, bones, vegetable offcuts, etc. In his lexicon entitled ‘Eatymology’ US author Josh Friedland has collected more examples of the new food-speak, including carrot mob, a so-called reverse boycott whereby crowds of enthusiasts descend on an outlet in order to celebrate its healthy credentials, and – less healthily perhaps – gastrosexual, an individual who uses cooking prowess in order to seduce. In a similar vein militant locavores (promoters of local produce) if male are now known as brocavores, while food porn is flagged by the hashtag #foodspo.

 

I’m always collecting jargon, buzzwords and new and exotic usages like these. Please contact me to donate examples (and you will be credited in upcoming articles and publications!)

 

 

HOLACRACY

I wrote about this new notion which claims to combine the agile organisation with a peer-to-peer workplace for British Airways Business Life in 2014, but judging from a recent Quartz article  (the link follows below), the concept continues to be influential – and controversial…

 

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Taking its name from the Greek holon, meaning an autonomous unit, the very latest thing in organisational theory promotes a new and radical flattening of the pyramid. Embracing holacracy, as online shoe retailer Zappos has done, means moving from a traditional hierarchy to distributed leadership whereby managers and job titles are replaced by work teams (known as circles) who choose their own tasks. According to its often messianic proponents the system involves ‘thinking beyond shareholders and stakeholders’, ‘dispensing with parental heroic leaders’ and ‘baking empowerment into the core of the organization by ‘detecting dissonance and processing tensions’. There are a very few successful firms – the Gore company of Gore-Tex fame is one – who have been virtually managerless for decades, but critics of the holacracy movement claim that it only works for outliers – quirky SMEs, local or family companies on the margins – and can’t provide the sophisticated governance and discipline required in larger and more complex corporations.

 

 

Zappos is struggling with Holacracy because humans aren’t designed to operate like software

NOT PRIVACY

Publicy

 

The opposite of privacy. A neologism which has been promoted by social media guru Stowe Boyd as a counter to ‘privacy’ in its more controversial online contexts. He claims it will be the defining concept of the next decade. In his words, ‘rather than concealing things, and limiting access to those explicitly invited, tools based on publicy default to things being open and with open access.’ In looking at how providers and users choose to regulate digital content and steer social interactions, Wired magazine has preferred the term sociality, (originating in the jargon of sociology and biology to describe the degree to which animals are prepared to socialise) to designate the possible new default settings for social networking sites. Some claim that behind the simply technical aspects of changing setting-priorities lies a quite new response to digitality (the condition of existing in a digitalised world), a philosophy which, while not totally discounting privacy, transcends outmoded traditions of secrecy and anonymity. Others have observed pointedly that in an era of the free no-one makes money by creating private communities.

 

TONY THORNE

Send your buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

MOMENT MARKETING ….and COMPARISONING

Two more recent buzzwords, to reignite the debate that I delight in: are these ludicrous and redundant formulations, designed to bamboozle and bemuse, or are they valid – even laudable – examples of creative lexical innovation? 

 

MOMENT MARKETING

 Inspired by the 34 minutes in 2013 during which Oreo cookies seized on a power cut at the Super Bowl to tweet ‘…you can still dunk in the dark’, moment marketing, also known as adaptive or reactive marketing, is advertising’s current obsession. The concept stretches from running digital campaigns off the back of real-world events (Paddy Power and Mini cars capitalising on the horse meat scandal, Warburtons bakery on a royal birth) to personalising customer relationships by tracking what consumers are doing at particular times of day – accessing different media, planning journeys or caring for kids for instance – and recording significant dates in their lives. Brands can emphasise authenticity and spontaneity by reacting speedily to trending topics – not just sports but showbiz, politics, weather – cutting to a minimum the time it takes to get from ideation to posting. In the jargon this is described as moving from real-time marketing to right-time marketing, linking offline to online to exploit hype-cycles and micro-moments.

The notion’s topicality is captured in TVTY agency’s new year message for 2017…

“As we have seen in 2016, careful moment planning – the process of deciding which moments matter most to a target audience – can lead to exciting results…we’ve seen the Germans and Italians win gold at the Olympics, the FMCG sector scored big at the Euros and there was a huge surge in ad-jacking during the Super Bowl. But 2017 is set to be even bigger and marketers need to ensure moment planning is a top priority…we have highlighted the events that will capture the attention of millions of consumers across the globe in our new tent pole event calendar.”

 

COMPARISON

‘Before making buying decisions millennials prefer to comparison on digital media’ is an example of ‘nerbing’, the converting of nouns into verbs (conference, signature and caveat are other recent examples), which business jargon delights in. In the same way hero has morphed from familiar noun to trendy verb in the last couple of years, as in ‘we will hero the women who align with our brand values’. Verbs may also become nouns, witness the ask, the build and the recover, while some jargoneers have turned solve into a noun and made solution a verb. Incentive was transformed first into incentivise and later abbreviated to incent. Another twist is to create new plurals, for example ‘practitioners will share practical learnings and advice on how brands can scale their operations across geographies.’ Egregious errors or desperate attempts at novelty depending on your take, these innovations may sometimes signal a subtle shift in meaning, so that comparison as verb refers not to comparing in general but specifically to online sites.

More on ‘nerbing’ from an early piece in Buzz Feed:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/the-verb?utm_term=.spvE8aXO8d#.cdEQYNK7YA

 

TONY THORNE

 

Send buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

SHARP NUMBERS AND STATUS SPHERES

 

I’m interested in the extent to which the trendy jargon of business and lifestyle really is transient, as it’s often presumed to be. Many of the buzzwords which I discovered and tried to analyse back in the noughties decade are no longer current. Some of them never managed to escape the rarefied circles in which they were invented and briefly exchanged. Others, however, still resonate  – and still, remarkably, are seen as innovative and novel. Here are two examples of what I mean: can you decide in which years the following words were written?

 

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SHARP NUMBERS

I’m almost certainly in the top category – a so-called high skeptic – on Obermiller and Spangenburg’s grading of consumers’ resistance to advertising claims. I’m endlessly irritated for instance at prices that end in 95p or 99p rather than go the whole hog. This tactic is crude and familiar, but other forms of number manipulation and the quasi-technical terms describing them increasingly crop up in commercial conversation.

Theorists of customer behaviour and information load describe my bugbear as the (positive) nine-ending effect, closely related to the (negative) left digit effect – if increasing the price causes the leftmost digit to change, the sale may well be lost. In analysing consumer inference and the processing of brand information the experts cite a numerical superiority effect. This simply means that claims expressed in numbers (‘78.6% effective’) appear to be objective  – based on empirical data – while claims expressed in words (‘finished to the highest technical standards’) tend to be judged as subjective. The same distinction operates between round figures or round numbers, often suspected of being approximations or guesstimates, and sharp numbers, assumed to demonstrate verifiability. This quirk of human psychology the experts describe as precision heuristics. Round numbers incidentally don’t always have to end in zero: given our system based on tens, fives are also salient (i.e more memorable and processed more readily).

Mathematician Stanislas Dehaene highlighted these and other psychological features of number-perception a decade ago, (and Proctor and Gamble’s claim that their Ivory soap was ‘99 and 44/100 per cent pure’ is a century old), but only recently have they begun to cross over into public awareness. The housing market in particular has woken up to a related phenomenon, that buyers have an innate tendency to treat sharp numbers as lower than round ones. They may for example unconsciously perceive £725,000 as higher than £725,647. Sharp numbers play a key role, too, in the pique technique, also known as mindful persuasion, whereby a request is made in an unusual way to pique the subject’s interest, usually illustrated by the simple example of a beggar asking for 97p instead of a pound. Such requests have been shown to have a potential 60% success-rate as opposed to 10% for round figures.

In US financial journalism, by the way, the phrase sharp numbers has another, predictable, sense: it means the numbers that hurt.

 

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STATUS SPHERES

According to research by Standard Life Bank two out of three Brits in their 30s and 40s are now suffering from status anxiety about their homes, prompting TV consumer psychologist Benjamin Fry to attempt a more detailed diagnosis. They are apparently experiencing improvenza, which sounds like another affliction, but is touted not as the disease but the potential cure, involving as it does reconfiguring the work-life balance and, as often as not, renovating rather than moving. The notion of status anxiety as a defining modern malaise has been around for some time, but was popularised by UK philosopher Alain de Botton in his 2004 book of the same name. US trendspotter Faith Popcorn has since argued that it is moral status anxiety which increasingly defines our attitudes. She and others have been predicting the end of conspicuous consumption, to be replaced by conspicuous austerity (slogan: ‘less is the new more’), thrifting (opting for low-cost, low-profile living) or conscientious consumption, whereby our individual standing is defined by how far we manage to combine spending and leisure pursuits with self-improvement and charitable works.

Amsterdam-based Trendwatching.com, who also single out status as the key driver of new consumer behaviours, this year upped the stakes by coining the expression status despair to describe the awful realisation, for example, that a fellow oligarch has a more sumptuously fitted-out private jet than you. Journalists have identified other manifestations of this new angst, ranging from yacht-envy to bag-envy. The latter, according to media strategist Tracy Hofman, can be countered by what she calls status flair, ‘the thrill that resonates when you realise that the quilted Chanel handbag you acquired in 1990 is now back in fashion!’

Trendwatching claim that, in an experience economy, hierarchies based purely on spending power are outdated, supplanted by so-called status-spheres; different areas of activity such as ‘participation’, ‘giving’, ‘experiencing’ from which individuals derive self-validation and peer-recognition. In the same way those physical status symbols – visible, tangible purchases for display – are giving way to status stories, told not by manufacturers but by consumers bragging to other consumers, presumably by word-of-mouth and by way of blogging and viralling, about their personalised adventure holidays, their web-presence, not-for-profit investments, eco-credentials, etc.

 

The Game of the Name – and How Brands Have Played It

More thoughts about the perils, pitfalls and potentials involved in choosing brand and product names, prompted by the news that Corrections Corporation of America, which runs more than 70 prisons and houses 70,000 inmates around the country, is rebranding as CoreCivic. Mentioned in the  following radio programme from long ago are the Škoda company name, from which the initial Czech ‘sh’ sound has subsequently been dropped for UK ads, and their daring product name Superb which has subsequently  been validated by the car’s success.

The radio discussion took place before the days of podcasts, so this, courtesy of the naming agency Igor, is a transcript.

www.igorinternational.com/press/bbc-naming-a-product-business.php

WACKAGING

WACKAGING

 

‘Wacky’ packaging or wackaging, a trend I wrote about in 2014, is back in the news this week as one of its first practitioners, Richard Read, co-founder of Innocent, reminisces in a Guardian article*

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Chiming with marketing’s turn towards storytelling and narrative, and the ‘brands are people’ mantra, packaging has gone wacky. Cutesy phrases (‘hello, my name is Caramel Brownie’) first appeared on the back of smoothie bottles more than a decade ago, now a whole range of supposedly chummy, cheeky products are talking back to the customer (‘please pop me in the fridge’). When the producer – ‘our lovely little company’ – tells you its life story on the label, it can seem intimate and fun, but eventually the faux-familiarity and baby-talk grates. The trend has spread to services, too: banks and utilities have gone chatty, and have you noticed that when your browser asks you if you want to translate a text, one option is ‘nope’. Mail error messages have switched to matey (the jargon term is hypercasual) comments such as ‘I’ve given up. Sorry it didn’t work out.’ Some commentators see this as part of a wider phenomenon: the infantilisation of popular culture and media and the pandering by brands to a toddler sensibility detectable in consumers of all ages. Wackaging will probably survive a backlash or two, but hopefully only when targeted at real infants, not kidults and adultescents. Alarmingly though, food manufacturers are experimenting with products and displays that really do engage the buyer in conversation, either via their mobile phones or with the aid of in-store devices. They say the move is targeted at the visually impaired and elderly, but the appearance of audio-empowered sausages and buttonholing robo-strangers lurking in the aisles can’t be far behind.

Vice UK editor Rebecca Nicholson put a collection of examples of the wackaging trend on Tumblr in 2011:

http://wackaging.tumblr.com/

*The Guardian article referenced above is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/23/richard-reed-interview-if-i-could-tell-you-just-one-thing-richard-branson-heston-jo-malone

 

Send buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

 

 

THE DICTIONARY, BY DESIGN

In recent posts I  have been looking at novel ways of mixing words and images and at the exploitation of nonstandard language varieties – slang and jargon in particular – for marketing, advertising and publicity. The format of the dictionary entry itself, the very familiar sequence of headword, part of speech and definition, lends itself to imitation in the same causes, as discussed here by naming expert Nancy Friedman:

http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2016/10/you-could-look-it-up.html

After studying Nancy’s article (included here with her kind permission) I tried in vain to find counterexamples: mainstream ads that had succeeded in using the reference-book template in original and striking ways. I did recall, though, some microexamples from closer at hand, the work of the design team at King’s College London with whom I’ve collaborated. These focused on colloquial language such as cliche, slang and catchphrase, presented in the visual style of thesaurus or academic document, playing with the expectations of a local target audience of students.

In 1998 slang, ancient and modern, and the thesaurus were evoked in an advertisment for student accommodation which proved popular with its intended readership:

KCL My digs 1998.JPG

Just recently an appeal for students to take part in a national survey combined a checklist or questionnaire format with plays-on-words, (over)familiar expressions and the sort of throwaway responses that students might employ:

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A little closer in spirit to Nancy’s examples, but more successful I think because target and context-specific is the mug designed for alumni of King’s College which plays on the Latin word itself, its correlates in English and, in dictionary style, its etymology.

Image result for KCL alumni mug

 

In my next post I hope to present for the first time a unique slang glossary and guide, created by a design specialist, which is at the same time a book to treasure, a rich source of information and a memorable art object.

PERCEPTIONS OF THE YOUNG

Image result for annoying young people

 

                                                  How are British Youth described? 

 

Over the last few years I have been collecting articles in the UK press (from tabloids, broadsheets and online sources) which seek to characterise young people. The following, in no particular order, except perhaps for the sake of ironic contrast, are the salient characteristics which emerge from an informal analysis of these articles’ claims:

 

  • Narcissistic with an unfounded sense of entitlement
  • Experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression
  • Identifying with celebrity culture
  • Prone to ‘drug abuse, alcohol-fuelled pregnancy or law-breaking,’
  • Clean-living, ambitious and competitive
  • ‘…growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please… No adult will intervene to stop them.’ (David Cameron in 2009: the discourse of ‘broken Britain’)
  • More socially liberal and accepting than previous generations on issues such as gay marriage and euthanasia
  • More politically right-wing than parents or grandparents at the same age
  • Digitally literate and globally empowered
  • Suffering from literacy problems and economic disempowerment
  • Speaking a different language

 

UrBEn-ID is an ethnographic linguistic research project being carried out at Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by The Leverhulme Trust. UrBEn stands for Urban British English, reflecting the project’s aim to investigate ways in which young people in an urban environment use language in the construction, negotiation and performance of their identities.

Some of their recent findings can be accessed here:

 

http://www.urben-id.org/attitudes-survey/

 

Three years on, and those labels; Babyboomer, Generation X, Millennial and Gen Z are still contentious, still contested. This from Marketing Week in April 2019:

Are terms like ‘millennial’ actually useful?