Yolo. Totes. Awesomesauce. Cray. Are you cringing yet? Me too.
Trendy things, from clothes to cars to food, all have a shelf life. We believe words have expiration dates too, especially when a perfectly innocent word transforms into a buzzword. The rise and fall of buzzwords are especially true in marketing and branding, where they have a distinct season of popularity before plummeting into the abyss.
Harold Evans says in his book, Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, that “…clarity and wit, not trendiness, are the goals of quality writing.” Over time, buzzwords eventually lose not only their relevance but their meaning. The implications of using worn out words have consequences. For example, overused buzzwords instantly carbon-date a piece of writing, which is a death sentence for web copy. After all, if site visitors can tell that website content hasn’t been updated since 2013, it’s going to speak volumes about the level of attention that’s paid to the business.
At ODEA, we’ve decided to permanently retire a few outdated, overused, and meaningless marketing words.
Our number one offender, ‘disrupt’ was the tech world’s darling buzzword. It’s been about five years since companies, agencies, and startups started ‘disrupting’ everything they could, from software to snacks. Some companies have even said that they’re ‘disrupting’ themselves. Originally referring to a low-cost underdog taking over the higher end of the spectrum, ‘disruption’ has somehow been conflated with progress. But, making something better at a similar price point doesn’t mean ‘disruption,’ that’s innovation. Don’t use a word like disrupt unless it’s accurate; the fact that it’s trendy isn’t enough.
On its own, ‘quality’ fails to convey a message or capture any attention. Of course your product or service is quality. Otherwise, why bother? Customers need to know what specifically makes your business better than your competitors. What makes you unique? What bold, colorful, descriptive language can you use instead? If you want to argue that your product or service is ‘quality,’ make sure you can effectively demonstrate how or why. If not, you’re missing out on an opportunity to truly differentiate yourself and risk sounding unconvinced of your own merits.
Use caution with ‘value.’ It’s too easy to make the ideological jump from describing something as delivering ‘value’ to thinking it’s cheap. If something is useful, or solves a problem, or does something better, say how. Customers want to know why your offer is worth their money, time, and attention. So, get specific and prove the ROI.
Once only used to describe things like oceans and the cosmos, these days you’ll see ‘epic’ used in anything from a product launch to a press release to a social media post. No longer signifying that a new venture is truly a cutting-edge, industry-changing phenomenon, ‘epic’ now refers to, well, just about anything. ‘Epic’ has become so watered down that it sounds ironic. When everything is epic, nothing is.
Mostly relegated to lifestyle brands, ‘authentic’ doesn’t authoritatively communicate anything other than the desire to be ‘authentic.’ There’s no better way to arouse suspicion about whether or not something is ‘authentic’ than to repeatedly insist that it is. Just saying it won’t help, so this case, it’s better to be authentic through your actions than use the word itself in your marketing. After all, the actions and behaviors of your company are equally as important to your brand as your visual identity.
The rules about writing aren’t etched in stone. There may be times where using these banned words is excusable or even necessary. However, don’t forget the damage that outdated, overused language can do. These days, a massive amount of information gets thrown at us at a breakneck pace with little regard for clarity. So, let’s all commit to banning tired, generic buzzwords. Using bold words makes it much easier to say what you mean and say something meaningful.