02/05/2017

Clichés? They’re not fit for purpose.

BY Julian Gorham

The head of marketing at Mondelez has quit her job. The company says “Our search for a successor will focus on finding a digital-first, disruptive and innovative leader who can build on Dana’s legacy and mobilise breakthrough marketing in a rapidly changing global consumer landscape.”

In today’s Financial Times Lucy Kellaway says that in this single, shortish sentence Mondelez has evoked not one, but many business clichés, each begging to be banned.

Why do clichés exist at all? Some say they’re useful because they are a form of shorthand. In fact they obfuscate meaning rather than convey it. What clichés sometimes convey amongst groups of people is a vague sense of belonging and invariably of being more clever than everyone else. But it’s a club of the clueless, making you and what you say forgettable.

Why do marketing clichés seem especially repellant? Other professions have their own, but perhaps it’s down to the volume and frequency with which ‘marketing speak’ is used. It spreads like wildfire if that’s not too clichéd a thought for you. A politician these days who doesn’t say ‘fit for purpose’? Unthinkable.

Most important of all, why do we need Lucy Kellaway to tell us what we all know to be true anyway? We need her because clichés are easy and comfortable. We fall into them because we are often lazy, sometimes stupid and occasionally both, and expressing ourselves precisely and thinking about things clearly is hard work.

So, thanks Lucy Kellaway for reminding us that we really ought to do better than spout this nonsense. In the meantime, to emphasise its absurdity, here are some definitions that may or may not be helpful:

Game changer

You’re playing Assassins Creed and you switch to Overwatch.

Granular

Often followed by the word ‘detail’ which is a kind of doubling up of the idea. Unless you’re talking about general detail of course. And phrases such as ‘let’s get granular’? Mildly unpleasant.

Value-add

‘What’s the value-add?’ you hear people say when they are asking about where the added value is. Apart from anything else, it’s a really ugly, car-crash of a phrase. Always sounds like a chopped off, half-a-thought. 

Thinking outside the box

Assumes that you’re already thinking in a box and begs questions such as if your thinking comes from outside the box how do you bring it back in again? And does it still have straight sides?

Low hanging fruit

This cliché, referring to ‘the simple or easy’, must rely on some kind of shared memory, given the separation of the growing process from many or our lives. This is probably the reason why people have forgotten that low hanging fruit often rots quickly or is the most damaged from disease.

Singing from the same hymn sheet

My upbringing as a Methodist allows me safely to say that this is no guarantee of a satisfactory, let alone harmonious result.

Killed in action

When it happens in war it is a tragedy. When consultants tell you it has happened to them, it is proof that they often over-estimate their importance and lead very dull lives. Killed in Acton could be both true and worse.