Archive for the ‘corporate speak’ category

The ableism of “on the go”

January 19, 2017

What does “on the go” actually mean? Various online dictionaries, all of which seem to be plagiarising each other, say that the phrase has been around since 1843 with the meaning of “in constant motion”.

But we don’t say the moon is “on the go” around the sun. We don’t talk about Robert Fludd’s “on-the-go” machines. These days, “on the go” is a marketing phrase. And by that, I really mean a phrase that people use to tell us stories about ourselves, stories told with the intention of manipulating us.

Some people genuinely believe that products and devices marketed for use “on the go” really are used mainly by people in a hurry. I’ve heard stories about the early days of designing software for smartphones, where the assumption was that the user would be “on the go” (and indeed “out and about” and other such stock phrases denoting busy-busy-busyness), so they would use the phone for quick, simple things and save the complex stuff for “real” computers. As late as February 2015, a research paper about grocery shopping on mobile phones was entitled On the Go: How Mobile Shopping Affects Customer Purchase Behavior.

What’s the reality? Developers now understand what users have known for a long time: that someone accessing the internet via a tablet or smartphone is more likely to be slumped on their sofa or sitting in bed than “out and about”. Which means they want to use their device for the complex things too – maybe it’s the only internet-connected device they can afford, or maybe they spend most of the day in bed and a lighter device is easier to manage. Either way, their reasons for using a tablet or smartphone have bugger-all to do with being “on the go”. Did the researchers of the paper I cited above really believe that people doing a whole grocery shop on their smartphone are putting toilet roll in their online basket while physically dashing from place to place?

It’s a similar thing with e-readers. They’re marketed for their portability, with the implication that otherwise you’d be throwing War and Peace in your bag before hiking the Machu Picchu trail or jumping on a train to Paris. But I do all my e-book reading at home. Other people tell me that they love e-readers because you can make the text bigger, or because you can hold one and turn the pages with the same hand while the other arm holds a baby or rests in a a sling.

Another example: snacks marketed as “on the go” because they don’t require preparation or cutlery. Are they mostly bought and consumed mid-jog? No, they’re mostly bought by people who don’t have access to a kitchen, or who never learned how to cook, or who are too disabled/depressed/tired to prepare food from scratch. The consumers of “on the go” snacks are probably doing just as much sofa-slumping as your average tablet user.

My point here: things marketed as “on-the-go” make life easier because they compensate for missing resources. Sometimes those resources are financial, which is why so many low-income people access the internet through phones and why insecurely housed people eat more convenience food than most. But a lot of the time those resources are about health and what we can broadly call “cognitive resource”: attention, energy, intelligence, knowledge.

But to talk about that would be to talk about poverty and arthritis and poor education and depression. It would be to talk about insecure housing and chronic fatigue syndrome and failing eyesight. So we reframe it all as being about the frantic pace of modern life. That’s why the marketing for TENA Lady pads explains that the typical buyer needs them because she’s “always on the go” and loves to “keep busy”.

Up to a point, it’s nice to look into the marketing mirror and see someone prettier looking back at you. You buy urine-absorbing pads because that’s what sporty women do, and definitely not because you keep leaking urine.  You buy ready-grated cheese because that’s what busy executives do, and definitely not because your hands hurt.

But wouldn’t it be nice to look into that mirror and actually see yourself sometimes? The marketing concept of “on the go” erases people with disabilities and people in challenging but unglamorous circumstances. They’re replaced by imaginary people who can’t stop dashing around. That erasure is, of course, ableist as hell. It also means that we miss out on more interesting, realistic advertising – and the marketers miss out on telling us the real reasons why we should use their products.

A story of enlightenment

October 10, 2008

Once there was a poet in search of a good acronym. This poet went to the wise man of the village and said,

“Wise man, I need an acronym for my budding yoga consultancy.”

The wise man replied, “What do you need to spell?”

The poet replied, “I’m trying to spell the name of my company. It’s called Hans Yoga because my name is Hans and I teach yoga. I’m all set for meaningless buzzwords when it comes to the H-A-N-S bit, but I can’t seem to get started on the Y-O-G-A.”

“Then,” said the wise man, “why not just stick the word “yoga” in at the end and hope nobody notices the acronym doesn’t really work any more?”

At that moment, the poet was enlightened.

Health & Happiness
Attitudinal Transformation
New-age Spirituality
Stress-free Success
through YOGA

How to create a really bad corporate acronym

October 9, 2008

Engage with key stakeholders and decision-makers
Come up with goals, values and associations for your company
How can we squeeze these into an acronym?
Out go any concerns about parts of speech
Looking good!
Actively bring in the shoehorn to squeeze everything in
Loving it!
I’ve nearly finished

The resulting acronym should contain at least two, preferably three or more parts of speech. Bonus points for using phrases and/or sentences instead of words and thereby turning it from an acronym into an acrostic, particularly if the phrases in themselves make no sense either. EMAP lose points for having just one word per letter, for the fact that those words are all in the Concise Oxford and the fact that the words are all adjectives. Must try harder.

If you’re a rookie at this game, you might accidentally end up spelling out a word that has some relevance to the essence of the company. More experienced corporate communicators will avoid this trap and pick a word that has nothing to do with it, then use clip art relating to the word in all their communications.

Extra double bonus points and a Milky Way for spelling out a “word” that isn’t actually a real word.


October 8, 2008

According to Victor Noir of the Journalist, “the mumbo jumbo men have been round at EMAP magazines”. (Scroll down the linked page till you get to “What do you think of our new clothes?”)

Most crap acronyms about corporate values start with a word that the writer is trying to spell, so the weakness creeps in as they strain to think of words beginning with the right letter. But EMAP have gone one better by deciding that their set of values should begin with A, B, C, D and E. Because EMAP begins with E, you see.  So it’s not technically an acronym, more… an alphabet. One that stops at E. Because EMAP begins with E. You see?

The “propositions” are comedy gold too.

We look for opportunity beyond the incremental
We are generators of unique product