The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

If People Can Play Bullshit Bingo With Your Conversation, It’s Time To Wash Your Mouth Out With Acid …
September 7, 2012, 6:11 am
Filed under: Comment

We work in an industry that is called ‘the communications industry’ and yet I forever hear conversations that are almost anti-communication.

We use acronyms like KOL.

We use words like synergy.

We use terms like transmedia platforms.


I can’t help but feel it’s done for one of two reasons:

1. To delude us into thinking we’re specialists.

2. To keep normal people ‘out’ of our conversations & inflate our importance & ego.

But here’s the thing, it’s not working.

Worse, it’s making us look like fucking fools.

If adland is supposed to be the bridge between companies and culture … the specialists who find ways to marry business need with cultural need … the masters of conveying emotion over rationality … how come so many of us express ourselves in a language that is the antithesis of normality?

But it’s worse than simply making us look idiots, I think it’s killing the value, potency and effectiveness of our entire industry.

I know agencies do it because they think companies want their partners to ‘speak their language’ – but in my experience, that’s not what they want.

The reality is we didn’t lose our seat at the boardroom table because we refused to speak in ‘corporate speak’, we lost it because we didn’t talk about their business, only their advertising.

I genuinely believe if we got back to communicating like ‘real people’, it would do adland the World of good.

Not just because it would remind us to always live in the World of cultural reality rather than marketing delusion, but because it might help business remember, recognise and fundamentally believe in our skills and value again.

While this has nothing to do with adland, I recently read an article in Bloomberg that – at least to me – highlighted how important it is to always communicate in the ‘real World’.

OK, so the person I am holding up as an advocate of conversation is an internationally recognised expert in his field, but my response to that is this might be one of the contributing reasons why that is the case.

First a bad example … an example that isn’t that different to some of the bollocks I hear from people in our industry:


Seriously, what the hell is she going on about?

Fine, maybe people in her field might understand what she’s saying, but that doesn’t mean it’s right … especially when you compare it to the everyday language used in this quote:


Clear. Consise. Conversational.

I’m sure you could provide me countless quotes where Buffet has talked in the sort of corporate bollocks I’ve just slagged Esther Dyson off for, but in this case – the way he communicates not only clearly articulates his point of view, but it gives you the impression he’s a real person, who understands real people, real issues and real ways to get results.

But more than that, because he talks in a way that anyone can understand, he comes across as someone you’re more likely to want to meet – which in our industry, is something we could do with a hell of a lot more of.

I continually say to people that we need to communicate – whether in the office, with clients or in presentations – in ways our Mum’s can understand and connect with because if someone whose always going to be more interested in what we say than the average person on the street doesn’t ‘get it’, then why the hell do we think the rest of the World will be interested and moved in our views either?

I appreciate that approach make not go down well with adlands egotistical glitterati, but then, they’re not people worth worrying about.

51 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Buffett’s never uses corporate speak and, in his words, invests only in businesses he understands. Both good lessons for agencies and anyone else for that matter.

Esther Dyson may well be right about self-quantification (it’s hardly a new thing) but the way she explains it suggests to me that she’s never actually done any. See previous paragraph.

Comment by John

Show off.

Comment by DH

einstein is in the fucking house.

Comment by andy@cynic

the perverted fucker version.

Comment by andy@cynic

I can say from personal experience that only the insecure or inexperienced enjoys interacting with agencies who communicate via complex, confusing or buzz word ridden vocabulary. One of the joys of working with you Robert was your “tell it how it really is” approach to communication. Sometimes it would be blunt, sometimes it would be hard to hear, but it was always to the point and delivered in a manner everybody in the room would understand.

This is a very good post with a very valuable lesson for people to remember.

Comment by Lee Hill

Sometimes very blunt.

Comment by Pete

And sometimes as shocking to hear for us as it was for you.

Comment by Pete

Yes it was Peter. But always for genuine, if not always agreeable, reasons.

Comment by Lee Hill

what about me? i kept you all fucking realer than real and what thanks to i get? not even a fucking upgrade.

Comment by andy@cynic

Most of the time anyway.

Comment by Rob

Thank you Lee, that means more to me than you would know.

Comment by Rob

This is great stuff Robert.

Comment by George

I’m ashamed to say you used to tell me this to me all the time, which means there was times where I slipped into adspeak.

It’s a rarely mentioned great bit of advice because this approach drives clarity, helps build trust and makes people want to deal with you. Benefits that can take you a long, long way. Great post Robert and much clearer than yesterday’s. (insert winking smiley face here)

Comment by Pete

The ‘clarity’ aspect is very important.

We allow too much ambiguity in our interactions and while I would never want us to become lawyers, I believe talking in clear, concise language will actually be more commercially beneficial to an organisation than endorsing the sort of marketing bullshit that gets spoken each and every day.

Comment by Rob

Admitting what you don’t know is also helpful. Or so I’m led to believe.

Comment by John

Oh yes, that’s another very important thing.

Comment by Rob

I don’t know why I come here.

Comment by DH

to be close to me. pervert.

Comment by andy@cynic

Good point Rob. Does this mean Andy is the best communicator?

Comment by DH

you bet your sweet, shitty fucking ass it does.

Comment by andy@cynic

While it’s not exactly the same thing, I’ve also argued with some smart people who felt that the use of jargon was justifiable precisely because it had an inclusive benefit of implicitly rewarding people’s expertise by making them feel members of the club. The problem with that argument is that this sort of inclusion only has value if there’s also a degree of exclusion.

Comment by John

and you didnt fucking lamp them? what the fuck?

Comment by andy@cynic

I was too busy being embarrassed by a comment that used long words where short ones would have been better. Also I’m not from Nottingham.

Comment by John

I bet when you met those people, you wish you were from the greatest crime city in Europe.

Comment by Rob

Brilliant Rob and much clearer than yesterday.

Are you excited about next week?

Comment by Bazza

what the fuck is he doing next week baz and why the fuck do you know and i dont?

Comment by andy@cynic

its the fucking iphone 5 bollocks isnt it. geeky fucks.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes. And we’re not geeks and not just because I’ve written a post slagging people off who call themselves that [or nerds] when they’re anything but, next week.

Comment by Rob

twats. and im warning you baz, if campbell gets a freebie, youre fucking dead. i know he was fucking happy you turned your midget back on business guru zuckerberg, but dash his fucking dreams of more overpriced aluminum by telling him the gravy train is officially fucking over.

Comment by andy@cynic

Nobody told me about this momentous decision. Well done Bazza.

Comment by John

As a longtime lurker this is the first time I’d like to share my two cents for what its worth.

In my home country, the Netherlands, during the 2002 election campaign there was a lot of talk about the language used by politicians. It was ought to be exclusive and full of jargon.
After some debate the term ‘Jip en Janneke’ language was coined and advocated by the prime minister. (‘Jip en Janneke’ are classic Dutch children books that are known to be read to children starting age two till four, the language used is as basic as it gets.)

Now, ten years later most politicians use this ‘Jip and Janneke’ language, especially during campaigns. However, there are some side affects. Three are noteworthy in relation to adland (I think).

First, complicated subjects sometimes need jargon words to explain small differences and nuances. These complicated subjects are exclusive by nature and explaining it in plain language makes these complicated matters seem less complicated than they are. This creates opportunities for populist propaganda because of the dumbed down complexities.

Second, instead of using jargon many politicians now very often use catch phrases and common (dutch) expressions that are seldom used by ‘real’ people when conversing. So instead of using jargon they tend to over use (and often invent) catch phrases that become as annoying as jargon to anybody and make them sound like bad tv-drama’s on repeat. (I doubt wether this only due to the abolishment of jargon, Dutch language studies think it is…).

Third (on a more positive note), the abolishment of jargon and cluttered speak has not only made politics more interesting and easier to understand (according to a recent national survey) but also bridged the gap between how people feel and how they feel represented. During the previous twenty years the greatest problem in Dutch civil society (according to social scientists, don’t trust them) was an emerging gap between politicians and citizens. Now this gap (according to some of the same social scientists) seems to have almost vanished as most people feel that politicians are approachable, understandable and sensible to what is going on in society, nonetheless, pessimism about politics is ever increasing.

Sorry for the lengthily post.

Comment by Paul

That’s all we need, another person who takes this blog seriously.

Comment by DH

the dutch have a language? i always thought they were fucking clearing their throat.

and watching watersports porn.

Comment by andy@cynic

You don’t think the two are in someway connected?

Comment by Paul

nice. you can come back.

Comment by andy@cynic

Brilliant response there Paul.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hi Paul and welcome to the madhouse.

Thanks for the comment and you raise a number of great points. That said, I’m not sure if I agree that complicated subjects need jargon words.

I do appreciate that in a quest to be understood, there is the temptation to ‘dumb down’ too much – meaning critical elements can be skirted over or missed – but I believe by talking plainly, then even the most complex of issues can be communicated without resorting to oversimplification or confusion.

That said, there are occasions when communicating in a complex way has commercial benefits, just ask the beauty industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s right – if anything, it means they don’t have anything powerful or meaningful to say.

Thanks for writing, I hope it’s not the only time.

Comment by Rob

The problem with jargon is that people often use it to mean different things because language has superceded.

The other night, I gaterashed a french digirati event the other night and forced them to speak english to me. At on e point two of them started to negotiate a deal but maintained the english due to my presence. It was interesting to hear them use buzzwords like 360 degree integration and I happened to ask how they translated that into French. They struggled and that made me think how you should never use phrases that don’t translate into other languages. Especially if that language is english.

Comment by John

If my comment came across as a plea for jargon I think I need to work on being clear (rereading my comment I can see why you thought it was). That said, I agree with you all the way, moreso, what I tried to say but miserably failed is that (dumbed down) plain speak can like jargon be utilised by certain nut heads (in my case politicians, in your example the beauty industry) to distort reality, especially when they try to sell something they know is a lot of crap.

Comment by Paul

I think the Anglosaxon example of the Dutch politicians are the archetypical American used-car salesmen. They use catchphrases like nobody else, dumb down essential technical problems by using plain old speak, try to make you think they are (like) you, and they need to sell something they know is crap.

Comment by Paul

Good point John regarding ‘buzz words’ that won’t translate. Given I live and work in China, this is an issue I/we are faced with every day. That’s not because we are advocates of the meaningless expression. but there are certain words/terms that – from a Western view – are just part of conversational culture, that have absolutely no meaning or no translational possibility from a Mandarin point of view.

It’s one of the things that forces you to not talk in corporate language – so for that, it’s a good thing.

Comment by Rob

Good point Paul, but don’t used car salesmen rank higher than politicians in terms of trustworthiness these days? Ha.

Comment by Rob

why is andy so nice to new people?
and how come i get no thanks for my valuable comments and time that i spend reading this blog?

Comment by swati

He was only nice when Paul – the new commentator – acknowledged the Dutch nations fascination with golden showers porn and speaking as if they’re coughing.

Maybe I’m wrong but I think if you look at his first comment, you’ll see he was actually being as insulting as he always is to everyone else!

I say ‘maybe I’m wrong’, but having known him for too many years, something tells me I’m not.

I – on the other hand – am always glad you comment on here Swati.

Comment by Rob

thank you rob…even though i pretty much forced that out of you…but i’ll take it
i see your point about andy…i concur….

Comment by swati

He’s an equal opportunity offender.

Comment by Rob

I agree totally about buzzwords in advertising. They make me cringe. God forbid you see some of the tender documents that we get given, the language makes you wonder how some people are even understood.

The last thing adland needs is a Gus Hedges brigade.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Fuck Rob…
I’ve been writing about this since before you were born in that Midlands slum (Not a patch on a fine Manchester slum!)
‘Cos, as you know…
I am a fucking prince.

Comment by George Parker

good fucking work george, spread the word on what a jammy, thieving bastard he is.

Comment by andy@cynic

ive just commented on georges blog. proof there is room for both of us grumpy fuckers. run for the fucking hills.

Comment by andy@cynic

I am honoured. To be character assassinated on a blog by a person of your errrrm, high standards is possibly the highest accolade of my career. If not my life. Thank you.

Comment by Rob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: