Archives for posts with tag: language


This speech is 39 years old. It  was given by Jermy Bullmore, CD at JWT London to Kraft executives. It’s as relevant as ever:

“Language itself is never completely explicit. Words have suggestive, evocative powers; but at the same time they are merely stepping-stones for thought. The artist rules his subjects by turning them into accomplices.

And that seems to me as good as a definition of the role of the creative man in advertising as I’ve ever read. We have to try to rule our subjects by turning them into accomplices; because, if they aren’t accomplices, they may well turn out to be enemies.

Let me now summarize where I think I’ve got to so far, before going on to illustrate the thesis with examples of advertising.

– Many people – our consumers – find much advertising irritating: and if anything, this trend is on the increaser. Some of this irritation is undoubtedly caused by the weight of advertising, by the intensity of advertising, by repetition and by the irrelevance of certain groups of products to certain groups of people. (…)

– But some, at least, of this irritation springs from advertisements which people describe as being an “insult to their intelligence”.

– What this particular phrase seems to mean is not simply talking down to people, or hectoring people. It means that the ‘sender’ has an inadequate understanding of the communication process in general and the role of the receiver in particular.

– The receiver is not passive: he is active. He will contribute, complete, modify, reject, select or repudiate: whether we like it or not. He doesn’t absorb messages: he responds to stimuli. He draws his own conclusions.

– If we attempt to deny him the chance to contribute, we run the risk not only of failing to achieve satisfactory communication, but of irritating him a great deal into the bargain.”

Isn’t it fascinating to see that we haven’t made that much progress in almost 40 years? The majority of advertisers are still yelling. The fragmentation of communication channels should lead to a golden age of storytelling. Let’s hope so.

Do yourself and read the whole speech. It’s fantastic.

Unless you advertise this abomination


Image courtesy of

During the dot-com bust, I interviewed for a position with a digital consulting firm. The job description sounded like a good match, the company had a good reputation and strong growth: I was excited. After speaking to the CEO for 5 minutes, I knew his company wouldn’t be my future home. Why? Because I had no idea what he was talking about. Every other word was a buzzword, he must have made up words on the fly and the sentences were so long and convoluted, I felt he was filibustering the interview.

One reason brands have problems connecting with people is their use of language. A few examples:

Dachis Group: “Social Business Design helps companies reinvent themselves into dynamic, socially calibrated organizations that gain constant value from their ecosystem of connections.”

Dell: “Increase workforce flexibility while storing data or secure servers – enabling highly centralized control over your distributed environment and aligning clients with their organizational needs.”

Ford: “Covert aerodynamic design and critical technology such as the class-exclusive PowerShift six-speed automatic and 1.6L Ti-VCT Duratec® I4 engine with twin-independent variable cam timing make it a responsive and fuel-responsible driving experience.”

I chose those 3 companies because they’re often heralded as the pioneers of Social Media and Social Business. Did you have any clue what they were talking about? I had some idea but became bored a few words in.

We have developed a lexicon of contrived gobbledygook meant to confuse people not to enlighten them. How can you claim to be social when your outward language is anti-social?

Just go to digital conferences and half the words abused have no real definition (Engagement), 1 million definitions (brand) or their meaning changes day by day (Success Metrics). We tend to use imprecise words to cloud our confusion and hide the fact our thoughts are not that well-thought-out. A refined thought doesn’t need to come in a convoluted package. Or, as Winston Churchill said: “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Amidst the corporate gibberish, brands have a unique opportunity to stand out from the masses by speaking plainly yet intelligently about the matter at hand. Not only only will you be seen as having a stronger grasp of the issues, but people will form stronger connections with companies.

In a complex world, any effort to simplify will be appreciated.