I think I speak for many copywriters when I say that it sometimes feels as if we’re losing the war of words.
(Sorry for starting on a bit of a downer, but that’s kind of my thing.)
Long-copy ads are rare these days. Cheap ‘content’ is everywhere. And don’t get me started on f???ing emojis.
But these are trifling matters, relatively speaking. I think the biggest enemy of our trade – and those of you who know me even slightly won’t be surprised to hear this – is corporate jargon.
Or ‘bollocks’, to use my preferred term for it.
Yes, yes, I know, this is a topic that’s been done to death, so I won’t bore/infuriate you with another list of excruciating buzzwords. But the fact is: this problem is not going away.
If anything, corpspeak is becoming ever more pervasive. It’s spreading and metastasising like some colourless, soporific tumour. Once the preserve of management theorists – bless their possibly robotic hearts – corporate jargon is now undeniably mainstream.
To wit, sportspeople now routinely talk about streamlining processes and meeting KPIs and managing controllables. So I think it’s fair to say that we’re at the far right of the buzzword adoption curve.
For many people, the response to all this is: so what?
‘Ryan,’ they probably think to themselves after my fifth unhinged rant of the day, ‘give it a rest, will you? Does it really matter if people want to sound like pseudo-intellectual drones?’
Fair enough. But you and I know that corporate jargon is not (just) a silly source of amusement. It corrupts communication and it inhibits clear thinking.
This point was made recently by the wonderful Australian author, speechwriter and gobbledygook-slayer, Don Watson, who wrote:
‘One can’t think in the fog that management jargon deliberately creates. One can’t know in it. Politics needs thought and language equally. Civil society does.’
We’ve all experienced the fog that he refers to. You need only read a big company’s website or a CEO’s memo to appreciate the obfuscatory nature of this kind of language.
But obfuscation is only part of the problem. The worst aspect of corporate jargon, I think, is its dehumanising effect. For evidence, look no further than the fact that, in the parlance of modern business, people are not even people. They are ‘resources’ or ‘talent’ or (ugh) ‘capital’.
And this gets to the nub of the problem for you and me. Because fundamentally, copywriting relies on understanding people and using language that connects with people.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, David Ogilvy knew this. Which is why he described jargon words as the ‘hallmarks of a pretentious ass’. (Tell us what you really think, David.)
I believe that copywriters have an important role in fighting the scourge of corporate jargon. And at the very least, we have an obligation to prevent something like this ad from ever happening again.
Ryan Wallman is Head of Copy at Wellmark, a creative agency with specialist expertise in healthcare communications. He is a medical graduate with a Master of Marketing from Melbourne Business School. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.