Blog in 01 2013.
Roll out the red carpet, the BAFTA nominations are here. Film distributors are currently competing to try and match critical acclaim with box office success. And as a result, film posters are everywhere. Each of them sprinkled with star-ratings, superlatives and spin.
Do you need a tagline?
Well, two of this year’s screen titans haven’t bothered. Both Lincoln (20th Century Fox) and Skyfall (Sony Pictures) use iconic imagery instead of language. But for those films without globally renowned spies or historic US presidents, taglines can be really useful. They add a little intrigue, play with our expectations and pull us into the world of the film. So, which nominees have the best and worst taglines going into this season’s awards?
And the winners are…
Les Misérables (Universal Pictures) ‘Fight. Dream. Hope. Love’
Short. Powerful. Inclusive. Engaging.
Django Unchained (Sony Pictures) ‘The D is silent. Payback won’t be’
A tongue-in-cheek tagline with some personality and gusto.
Silver Linings Playbook (Entertainment) ‘Love hurts’
Ambiguous title? Use a simple tagline that sums up the genre.
Sadly, going home empty handed…
Argo (Warner Bros.) ‘The movie was fake. The mission was real’
Without the pretext for the film, this tagline is just plain confusing.
Zero Dark Thirty (Universal Pictures) ‘The greatest manhunt in history’
Who says so? Not the worst, but unimaginative and restrictive.
Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) ‘Believe the unbelievable’
In the context of the film this works, but outside of that it’s clichéd and nondescript.
Which is your winner?
I hope not. But Trendwatching has just listed the nine new business buzzwords it expects us to hear more of this year. And ‘datashaped’ (all one word), ‘remapped’ and ‘(self) actualised’ are all in there.
A list like this makes my heart sink. Not just because buzzwords almost always sound horrible, but because they’re simply not effective. They’re too ambiguous, too easy to ignore and far too easy to misunderstand.
Here’s an example:
If you wanted to use ‘remapped’ in a sentence, apparently you could say: ‘The essence of the remapped world will be feeding 2013’s demand for multi-directional consumerism.’
You could say that. But no one would have a clue what you were on about.
It would be clearer to write something like: ‘2013 is going to be a big year for emerging markets. They’ll be producing and exporting more than ever before – to developed and other emerging markets.’
If you’re writing about new ideas, describing them with new words doesn’t help. In fact, the more complex the idea, the more straightforward your language should be. It’s the only way you can be sure that your readers will really understand it.
So let’s ditch the jargon and make 2013 a year for great new ideas, described in good old-fashioned language.
Who’s with me?
‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that’s most important.’
For years, that’s what brand agencies and language consultants have been telling their clients when selling them ‘tone of voice’. Want your customers to be more loyal? Your people to be more engaged? Your products and services to be more desirable? Just get rid of all that pesky jargon, business-speak or formality in your writing and voila.
After all, when everyone’s saying the same thing, saying it in a friendlier way will make all the difference, right?
Often, jargon and business-speak just mask the fact that actually, brands and organisations have nothing interesting to say. And changing that is a much bigger challenge than changing the way you write.
It means changing the way you think.
Here are five thoughts to get you started.
Think about the reader
That customer who’s just complained about someone being rude to them on the phone doesn’t give a hoot about the awards you’ve won for your service. And your people aren’t going to listen to how brilliant your newly merged company is if they’re worried about losing their jobs. So think about your reader. Who are they? What’s important to them? Cut through the spiel and spin and talk about what matters.
Your people, products and processes all need to live up to your messages. So make sure you join up your thinking between teams and departments. One of our clients wanted their messages to be all about making life easier and simpler for their customers. But clunky processes and creaky legacy systems meant their service didn’t live up to it. They needed to make sure those things were changing too, otherwise they’d be making promises they couldn’t keep. (And when the change actually happened, it became a really positive message in itself.)
Think one thought at a time
Don’t write things by committee, or try to tick off 20 ‘key messages’ in every piece of communication. It always sounds false, disjointed or forced (or all three). And anyway, your reader will only remember one or two things. So focus on the one or two main points you want them to take away.
Think like Einstein
Albert Einstein once explained relativity by saying, ‘Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.’ Note that he didn’t just find another word for ‘E=mc2’. He took a completely new look at relativity and explained it in a way that everyone, not just scientists, could understand.
And finally, think about your language
Once you’ve done all of that, you can think about the specific words you use – the bit the consultants would call ‘tone of voice’. Only this time, you’ll have something to say.
Every time America flirts with economic meltdown, a metaphorical ‘fiscal cliff’ magically appears. On the news, in the papers, online – it’s been everywhere lately. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The phrase has won the dubious honour of topping the University of Michigan’s (catchily named) ‘Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’. It beat off competition for the title from ‘kick the can down the road’, ‘passionate’ and ‘YOLO’, according to the Guardian.
First coined by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, ‘fiscal cliff’ became de facto US economic news speak in 2012. Its metaphorical misuse grating on people as it became the lazy choice people reached for when talking about impending American financial doom. In the UK we have a similar tendency to pull out the euphemistic ‘current economic climate’ – you mean that big, fat recession, surely?
So what’s the problem with ‘fiscal cliff’? As a metaphor, it’s pretty spot on – it’s not a place you want to be teetering on the edge of for too long. Using metaphors is just a way of helping people understand complicated stuff. And its overuse/success is probably entirely down to its popularity.
So what do you think of ‘fiscal cliff’? And what’s your pick for 2012’s worst linguistic clanger?
I’m reading Rework by the 37signals software people. (It’s a ‘nuggets of wisdom we’ve sussed out by running our own business’ type book and was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller recently.) Among their various nuggets of wisdom was this advice: When you’re recruiting, if you can’t choose between two candidates – hire the best writer. Why?
‘…because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.
‘Writing is making a comeback all over our society. Look at how much people email and text message now rather than talk on the phone. Look at how much communication happens via instant messaging and blogging. Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.’
We couldn’t agree more.