Obfuscating Language

By April 13, 2012August 16th, 2012Blog, Rants

On the value of speaking plainly, Einstein once said, “It should be possible to describe the laws of physics to a barmaid.”

I’ll preface this by saying up front that, I’ve been serving a sentence in the graphic design, printing, web and advertising business in some varying degree now for about 235 years, so my opinions may be jaded.

So there I am, I’m sitting in a meeting in a hotel conference room with a handful or business owners and a few “web” guys from other agencies, learning about the ways that social media and an online web strategy can boost sales and awareness of your companies brand all by magically funneling all of your non-existent free time into mining a Facebook page, closely watching your Facebook and google analytics, then tying the whole thing together with a radio and television campaign for maximum exposure.

It’s 30 minutes into the presentation and I’m trying hard not to fall asleep listening to the now streaming video of a leading industry advertising and social media expert when I got the bright idea to play a game. I would write down every stupid agency buzz word that the speaker said over the duration of the 30 minute presentation that I was sure that the majority of the business people in the room (clients or potential clients) would never admit that they had no clue what she(the speaker) meant or was talking about.

Here is the list:
TAP, SEO, SMO, CPC, DNS, ROP, OTO, PUR, CPP, CUME, Aggregate, Taxonomy…
Then- miss big words actually threw in these little pearls too: zenzizenzizenzic, recumbentibus and quomodocunquize (i’ll let you look em up)

Ok, I have to admit that I know most of the agency terms, but I had to look the other big words up when I got home. But just looking around the room, I knew that only about 5 people out of about 40 knew any of the terms or big words that this lady(aka: leading industry expert) was using to describe the services or processes she was presenting, and they were all agency guys like me. My litmus test has always been my wife, or my in-laws. If I start talking about something, like computers or coding, and I see their eyes glaze over and that blank, pretend to be politely listening stare is looking back at me, I know to change the conversation to something else or dumb down whatever i’m talking about. I could see that look on most of the faces in the conference room.

So this is the lead in to my whole point. Why then have agencies developed an appalling lexicon of phrases and dreadful gibberish meant to confuse rather than communicate plainly. Our most popular words have vague meanings and fuzzy definitions — branding, engagement, conversation, interactive, strategy… I believe they do it, because they can’t accept that what we do, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively straightforward and somehow by adding un-comprehendible words into conversations, presentations and casual interactions with clients they think that they are adding value.

I realize that every industry has specialized terms that only have meaning within an industry. But when those terms become the words used to interact with clients who don’t understand them, I think it’s a problem. My thought is that obfuscating language has always been the tool of the intellectually insecure to batter the bewildered into spending un-necessary dollars.