There’s a lie at the heart of marketing and business jargon, and those of us pushing our companies and publications to better means of expression seem sometimes to be the only people aware of the lie.
The lie is this: jargon expresses a simple idea with words that suggest complexity. “Utilizing” something sounds oh-so-much-more-complicated (and oh-so-much-more expensive!) that simply “using” it would be.
It’s a lie.
As far as I can tell, there’s only one reason for this jargon in marketing: to appear to have more arcane knowledge, programs, and services so that you can charge more for them.
Let’s face it: in certain areas, the use of jargon can be justified. In law or medicine, for example, irreducibly complex ideas are at the center of the communication. But let’s face it, folks: marketing ain’t rocket science, and it’s time we stopped trying to pretend that it is.
George Carlin had a routine suggesting that jargon exists as a buffer against reality, insulation against the notion that your work may not be as esoteric, intellectually taxing, and difficult to perform as you’d like to think. As always, George was on to something there.
What are the most egregious bits of marketing jargon? Here are five of my favorites:
1. Think outside the box: as one of my colleagues has said, “this was clever and illustrative the first 6.3 billion times it was used. Now it’s just ridiculous, to the point at which, if you find yourself uttering the phrase “thinking outside the box” … you’re not.”
2. Leverage (used as a verb): This term comes from banking, where it has a very specific meaning. Copywriters starting adopting it as a synonym for use. Like “utilize,” but even more dynamic and esoteric. How else can you say it? “Let’s use the graphics department to create those slides.”
4. Powerpoint deck: Deck came to us from the stack of computer punch cards used to enter computer programs.There is no such thing as a digital deck. It’s a Powerpoint presentation, folks.
5. Synergy: Here’s a feel-good word that’s filled with empty calories. It means that two companies, two individuals, two of just about anything can work well together and benefit from the collaboration.
Those are just a few of my favorites. How about you? Which bits of jargon annoy you the most? Share some of yours, and then you’ll be … beyond The Elements of Style!