Thursday, May 22, 2008

Smart. Sexy. Simple. Solutions.

I can't stand modern advertising-speak. Advertising has muddled the meaning of once weighty words like "sexy" and nearly erased the true meaning of important everyday words like "solution."

There have been volumes written (well, at least an article and a book chapter or two) on the modern abuse of the word "simple." To sum it up (or to put it simply), the word gets applied to things that really don't simplify anything. Real Simple magazine is a frequently used example of promised simplicity that turns out to be selling all the same gadgets, cosmetics, and money spending lifestyles as Cosmo or Better Homes and Gardens. I think you can find plenty on this in the book Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwarz.

The possible uses and meanings of word "sexy" are complicated and tricky. I am glad that it can be used in a looser fashion than say, forty years ago (was it even a word then?), because if you take it literally it woud mean "like sex." And that's just a little too intense for everyday use. So it's come to mean a sophisicated kind of "cool" or an edgy kind of "sensual." It's even come to mean "something that piques people's interest." I think I am okay with that. So I guess I am only complaining about it because it's overused rather than misused. I'm afraid we'll get to the point where newcasters and blenders are considered as sexy as cars and bras.

"Smart" causes me more anguish than "sexy." Everything is smart today, except for maybe the people that buy the smart things. Do they need a smart car, printer, camera, phone, water, whatever because they aren't very smart themselves? Or are the products called smart because they're for smart consumers? We can't be sure. Advertisers offer the smart consumer a backhanded compliment. I think I might actually try the "SmarteCarte" at the airpoirt if it didn't claim to be so smart, while misspelling its own name. The big problem here is almost none of the things we describe as smart actually have any intelligence. They have simple computers or mechanisms that are nothing near being "AI," and they were designed by human beings (except for the smart water). They should be named after the person who made them, or named after what they do. They are objects after all. They should learn their place.

Finally the most anguishing of all the words mentioned in the title is "solutions." Unless you have just solve a math problem or some other query or riddle, I never want to hear or see this word again. It has gotten wrapped up in the sick world of corporate-speak, and everyone who offers any service of any kind has the "solution." To what? The "I need some envelopes" problem? It's not really a problem. It's a circumstance or a need, that gets taken care of on a regular basis by a company that provides a service. What happened to "service"? Or "product"?

Ack! It's a double whammy!

"We offer a complete solution driven approach" -- In other words, we do the service the name of our business suggests we do? This is "solutions" as word fluff. The sentence doesn't really say anything.

"Uncompromised Check Solutions" -- In other words, safer checks? This is "solutions" trying to sound fancy or professional.


On another note, you'll notice the overuse of periods in my title. This is my last gripe for the day: Single. Words. Do. Not. Need. Periods. This kind of slogan or tagline writing just goes to show the lack of creativity and intelligence on the part of the copywriters and advertisers involved.

There's kind of an unwritten rule that signs and slogans don't need proper punctuation, which is okay with me. Signs and slogans usually use sentence fragments, so they can just leave them open, or end with an exclamation. "Inquire Within" and "BIG SALE" don't need periods. Adding periods to phrases like these is slightly obnoxious, but usually not that noticeable.

However, when all a firm can think up is three words (it's always three words) that describe their client's company or product (or solution!), and they make no attempt to construct a short effective sentence using those words, they fail miserably. Then we get overused words, overpunctuated.

Last week I had a bottle of water that said "Replenish. Rehydrate. Refresh." Thanks for the tips. Or are they commands?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the overuse of the word "solutions" - it also aggravates me to no end, although most things corporate aggravate me to no end.

    I happen to also have issues with the use of "simple" in conjunction with Martha Stewart's magazine. I don't find her solutions to be "simple", per se. Most are costly and, frankly, unnecessary, although generally pleasant to look at.

    I do, however, disagree, to a certain degree, with your discussion of the use of the word "smart". "Smart", after all, has many definitions, some of which would be fitting (example: neat, trim; stylish/elegant; brisk/spirited), others of which would be comical, and kind of cute, even whimsical in conjunction to say a car. Ex., "Why not take a ride in my car? It's pert and saucy!" Or perhaps my water is "shrewd"? I never gave it the chance - I was too busy Replenishing.


I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.