Last week the Money Advice Service said the average UK adult loses £428 every year, thanks (or no thanks) to confusion over financial jargon. That adds up to £21 billion a year. Ouch.
According to their research, many of us don’t understand the terms financial providers use. A worrying 84 per cent of us don’t read the full terms and conditions when buying financial products, which leads to a lot of bad decisions.
That sounds familiar. Not too long ago, we worked out that it takes a good 28 minutes to read a set of Ts and Cs. And that most of them are so hard to get through, you need a university-level reading age. (You can download our full report here.)
But hang on, did anyone read the quote from the Money Advice Service? It said: ‘Reading and understanding the terms and conditions of a financial product can seem long and unnecessary, but if you don’t, you may end up incurring unexpected penalties and possibly even impact your credit score.’
‘Incurring unexpected penalties’? ‘Impact your credit score’? What? Even a service set up to help people understand the ins and outs of money lapses into the occasional boardroom bingo phrase.
They’ve also taken a bit of a ‘buyer beware’ stance, implying that the onus is on us to decipher financial-speak. Rather than on the financial industry (who, by the way, want our money) to make it easier for everyone.
That’s telling. It’s like we’re resigned to the fact that a bank wouldn’t be a bank if it didn’t use language that obfuscates. Just look at the number of glossary-style websites out there trying to make sense of terms like ‘compound interest’, ‘annuity’, ‘EAR’ and ‘APR’. Sometimes the definitions can be equally frustrating: ‘Compound interest which is calculated not only on the initial principal but also the accumulated interest of prior periods.’
We shouldn’t just accept it though, should we? For once, I’d like to read something along the lines of: ‘We’ll pay you interest on the sum of money you originally saved with us, as well as on any interest you’ve earned since. So you’ll earn interest on your interest.’
Think how much the firm that really nails it would stand out from their competitors.
Fewer misunderstandings. Fewer complaints. Happier customers. And a handy £428 back in our pockets.
I was wandering through the Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog the other day, and stumbled across a piece by Gary Nunn that really made me smile. It’s all about the names scientists give species and organisms when they discover them.
The dinosaur names have to be my favourites. The Latin versions we know conjure up images planted by films like Jurassic Park. But their translations give us a very different and much more descriptive insight. We go from the big, angry, scaley, stompy Velociraptor, to the crafty, lithe and tactical ‘Swift Thief’.
Then there are the less famous dinosaurs – the likes of Psittacosaurus Mongoliensis. I couldn’t imagine what that creature might look like. But when I read the translation ‘Parrot Lizard of Mongolia’, all of a sudden I became a lot more interested in palaeontology.
Beyond the world of dinosaurs, scientists are comparing the critters they’re discovering to the celebrities they admire. Like the rare horsefly with a gold patch on its back: the Scaptia Beyonceae.
I love how much personality these names pack into subjects most people don’t get excited by. (I’ve certainly never been interested in horseflies before Beyoncé entered the picture.) And I think some of that creativity comes from the naming system scientists have to stick to: the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
I’m not saying everyone should use celebrities to name their products or services (the ‘50 Cent Saving Scheme’, anyone?), but I do know that a few constraints can bring out stronger, more creative and more consistent names. They mean you’re not starting with a completely blank slate; you’ve got a direction to go in. They help you edit out the weaker names, the ones that don’t fit the rules, and coax you down the path of stronger ones.
So if you need a hand making your names a little more Quianzhousaurus Sinesis* and a little less ‘Premium Logistical Solutions’, get in touch.
Analgesics. Dermatological treatments. Respiratory medicine. It’s hard to understand what pharmaceutical firms are saying half the time. They mix and match the kind of language they’re using, and it doesn’t do them any favours.
Things usually start positively on the front of the packaging. A headache tablet might declare that whatever’s inside ‘hits pain fast’. But when I dig a bit deeper, the same firm says this particular product can treat ‘neuralgia’. All of a sudden I need a pharmacist to translate language that’s directed at me, the consumer. So the words aren’t doing the job they’re meant to. As our Padders says, there are times when an ‘occupational dialect’ is helpful, and others when it’s downright baffling.
Big pharma firms spend more on sales than R&D. They’ve realised that if they don’t sell their products to pharmacists, or pharmacy assistants, they’ve little hope of reaching consumers who come into a chemist with a migraine. But wouldn’t it be smarter to make how they talk about their products more appealing to customers directly?
When I worked with people in the world of pharma I’d often challenge them about their way with words. They’d blame regulators for their choice of language, or the categories they use to measure sales, or the fact that medicines don’t fly off the shelves. The language mixes up a few snappy headlines to hook customers in, before veering off into industry-speak. ‘They’re slow, not fast, moving consumer goods’, they’d say, by way of explanation.
But there’s a reason why it’s called ‘consumer healthcare’. The people buying are consumers, not doctors or pharmacists. And these are products that the government has said are safe for self-medication; shouldn’t we be able to understand everything the little leaflet that comes with the packet says?
If they manage to do that extra bit of thinking and talk to us in a language that makes sense first time, we’ll be more likely to trust them. And much more likely to look for their brands when we can feel a migraine coming on.
It’s one of the ironies of advertising that adverts selling the benefits of advertising itself are usually really lame.
But Exterion Media and Campaign have played a blinder with the ad for the Big Bus Challenge, aimed at getting advertisers to advertise on buses more:
‘It’s big. It’s red. It sticks in your head.’ Genius.
And coincidentally, on the way into work today I saw the best bus ad I’ve seen in years, by Comedy Central:
It’s so good I don’t even care that the gag doesn’t work because the bus is empty.
It also reminded me of one of my favourite writing-on-buses ads – from Dutch Railways:
In yesterday’s London Evening Standard, Richard Godwin wrote about the changing culture of the ‘OOO’.
Godwin reckons the best OOOs go for brevity over personality. He says the last thing we want when we’re stuck behind our desk emailing someone for answers is a humblebrag, or half-hearted attempt at humour.
And we agree, to a point. The whole idea of the OOO is to let people know you’re not around to help them, but here’s what they can do instead. And if that message is getting garbled behind a load of info about your travel itinerary, then it’s not doing its job.
But our clients are always forwarding us examples of nice OOOs they’ve seen, because they were a little out of the ordinary or raised a smile. So as long as you tell people what they need to know, and aren’t too smug about the great time you’re off having, we think you’re missing a trick if you don’t show a little personality. It’s a little bit of extra thinking that really sticks in people’s minds.
If you’re jetting off halfway across the world, that’s exciting. ‘I am currently out of the office until August 18th with no access to emails. Contact Mr Brown on 54321 if you need assistance in the meantime’ might get the job done, but it makes you sound crushingly dull. You wouldn’t be so bland in real life, so why do it here?
Here are a few that people have sent us because they really hit the mark.
I fancied a curry so I’ve gone to India. If I don’t get spotted by a Bollywood film director, I’ll be back at my desk on Tuesday 20th April. Can’t wait till then? Get in touch with…
I’ll be experiencing one of life’s necessary evils until about 10.30am on Thursday morning, in the form of The Dentist (gulp).
It’s Friday. It’s Sports Day. So I’ve gone to cheer on the egg and spoon race. Be back after lunch.