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

A LOAD OF JARGON – 2

 

blex_outofthebox

 

“We are all guilty of using redundant and superfluous language throughout our working day, phrases such as blue sky thinking, target audience or thought shower are just a few examples of this strange terminology that has become commonplace.” – It’s Nice That

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Just as brands, service-providers and media agencies have begun to appropriate slang and jargon for their own purposes, so designers and artists are starting to explore and exploit the potential of colourful nonstandard language with creative juxtapositions and novel interactions.

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At iconic  The Conran Shop in London It’s Nice That media publication and design partnership Isabel+Helen have collaborated on an exhibition, running through September and October 2016,  which both celebrates and mocks the buzzwords circulating in creative industries. The static and kinetic works on show combine image, text and typography to re-present familiar phrases in a new context, while visitors have the chance to explore further via interactive games and print workshops.

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A Load of Jargon takes in both well-established and more recent expressions. For instance, the creators lampoon the phrase thinking cap by creating a pile of baseball hats emblazoned with those selfsame words. Next steps, another common business cliche, is a treadmill-like set of stairs, implying the infinite cycle of the phrase. Not all the pieces are purely literal, though: going viral, for example, is a series of yellow ping pong balls in front of a red background, inviting multiple interpretations from spectators.

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To my jaded ears some of the terms being mocked – going viral itself is one – seem thoroughly useful and no more offensive than the The Conran Group describing itself as a  lifestyle retailer, but that’s not the point here. Surveys have shown again and again that real people (as opposed to linguists specialising in slang) are upset by such language, and other buzzwords from the installation, notably thought shower (which the BBC famously imposed in place of brainstorm in order not to upset epileptics) are prime examples.

Theconranshop_isabelandhelen_itsnicethat_aloadofjargon_00_list

The installations play on the paradox whereby we can be simultaneously amused and irritated by language while we share the nagging suspicion that the sometimes laughable buzz-terms we are seeing and hearing actually signal something important: not just a way of encoding new ideas, new technologies and new ways of working (the project describes itself as a an immersive experience), but also a specialist vocabulary which team-builders and team-members use for bonding and forging identities. We bridle at the use of jargon when it’s novel and unfamiliar and again when it has become overfamiliar, but dare I suggest we try instead to expand our lexical repertoire, appreciate the sociosemantic resonances of these neologisms and get with the programme?

Writing about The Conran Shop exhibits Naresh Ramchandani of Pentagram takes a harsher view…

http://www.itsnicethat.com/features/linguisitc-cocaine-a-load-of-jargon-naresh-ramchandani-041016

With thanks to Manda Wilks and the rest of the It’s Nice That Team

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…and to The Conran Shop

A LOAD OF JARGON – 1

Despite my own attempts, sometimes facetiously, often more sincerely, to celebrate the colourful language of the business world, jargon and buzzwords generally receive a very bad press. Of course there are good reasons for this – most profoundly the way the language of ‘marketisation’ has penetrated professional and everyday communication, thereby implicitly reinforcing free-market values,  a tendency which disturbs academic discourse specialists if not the public at large. More superficially, but no less worryingly, the spread of jargon empowers some workers and disempowers others, as well as inflicting its irritating clichés on them.

I’m interested, though, to see how some agencies, brands and providers have raised awareness of jargon – more effectively so far than linguists have managed to do – at the same time exploiting a critique of jargon to market their services.

One recent example comes from telecommunications provider Powownow:

What People Think of Those Who Use Business Jargon

As long ago as 2005 the Irish recruitment agency Irishjobs.ie carried out a survey of officeworkers to discover how they felt about jargon in the workplace. Their findings were that…

  • 50% of respondents regularly hear such phrases as raising the bar, hitting the ground running and singing from the same hymn sheet in their workplace

 

  • such language is most likely to be used by those in the 30-40 age group. The younger (18-25) and older (50-plus) age groups are the least likely to use this language.

 

  • 68% find this style of language annoying or very annoying.

 

  • 68% think that this type of language is primarily used to impress rather than to communicate information.

 

  • 63% think that business-speak is primarily used to hide a lack of knowledge.

 

  • 26% think it is used to intimidate.

 

  • 64% think it is actually detrimental to communication.

 

  • 41% admit to having used such language to impress someone in the context of work.

 

  • 77% report having been told to think outside the box at least once by their manager.

 

In April 2016 the Amba Hotel chain polled 2000 business travellers to determine the most annoying examples of ‘management-speak’. The top ten came out as:

  • Touch base offline: 30% (meaning: let’s meet and talk)
  • Blue sky thinking: 26% (meaning: empty thinking without influence)
  • Punch a puppy*: 25% (meaning: do something detestable but good for the business)
  • Thought shower: 25% (meaning: brainstorm)
  • Thinking outside the box: 24% (meaning: thinking creatively)
  • It’s on my radar: 17% (meaning: I’m considering it)
  • Close of play: 16% (meaning: end of the day)
  • Singing from the same hymn sheet: 15% (meaning: all on the same page)
  • Peel the onion: 13% (meaning: examine the problem)
  • To wash its own face: 9% (meaning: to justify or pay for itself

 

The hotel brand then offered a top ten of more fashionable and up-to-date buzz-terms:

  1. Bacon wrap: when you take something good and elevate it to excellence by changing it or adding value to it
  2. Buffling: speaking at length and off the point in a business context
  3. Derp: a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is made
  4. Dumbwalking: walking slowly, without paying attention to the world around you because you are on a smartphone
  5. Humblebrag: the practice of saying something apparently modest which is really intended to boast – “Just stepped in gum.  Who spits gum on a red carpet”
  6. Nomophobia: fear of being without your mobile phone
  7. Power paunch: a large stomach worn proudly as a badge of status
  8. Qwerty nosedive: falling asleep at the keyboard
  9. Sunlighting: doing a very different job on one day of the working week
  10. Underbrag: a boast which consists of openly admitting to failings to prove you are confident enough not to care what others think of you

 

I’m still not convinced that we should only condemn the several varieties of language grouped together under the ‘jargon’ umbrella. Elsewhere on this site I’ve posted examples of brands who have celebrated slang in the form of dictionaries, lexicons and glossaries. Next I will be looking at how designers have combined the visual with the linguistic in new and original explorations of nonstandard language.

*Punch a puppy, which I hadn’t come across before, is a version of the phrase shoot the puppy, (the title of my 2006 jargon dictionary) an Americanism meaning ‘dare to do the unthinkable’, inspired by a proposal for a game show (mercifully never commissioned) in which participants would be dared to shoot a dog.

 

…and finally, here is an article by Dr Erika Darics of Aston University which also pleads for tolerance of nonstandard language in the corporate sphere:

https://theconversation.com/looking-under-the-bonnet-of-annoying-management-speak-61443

 

 

 

 

Hierarchy Misalignment Syndrome

 

 

HMS, meaning a glaring mismatch in terms of status, is the latest mock-malady to afflict the business world. It was recently highlighted by, among others, PR and communication specialists Shine.com. It describes the awful sensation experienced when you sit down for an important face-to-face with a client or partner and find that your contact is an intern and/or someone 20 years younger than you. As Shine puts it, “It tends to mean that their organisation is taking neither you nor the project seriously – or, even more annoying, that your opposite number is a child prodigy.”

As a babyboomer I’m resigned to seniority or generational mismatches by now, though I try and check attendee status in advance of meetings. In wider contexts — company mergers, for instance — seniority integration is a priority for HR specialists. This coinage has been inspired, I suspect, not just by analogy with PMS (aka PMT) but by two genuine technical expressions: ‘hierarchy malalignment’ when mapping across databases, and ‘miserable malalignment syndrome’ — a painful result of sports injury.