During the past couple of years, I've been greatly influenced by Don Watson's Death Sentence: The Decay Of Public Language. Watson was a speechwriter for the ex-Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, and has been fighting the rising tide of "management-speak". He argues that this new language is like an impenetrable sludge that is devoid of emotion, reducing the quality of communication and diminishing the spirit of the reader.
It's curious that this is happening within a culture renowned for speaking its mind in the most direct and blunt way possible. This trait is best reflected in our place names, where we tend to have a "see it, say it" mentality such as Shark Bay, Great Barrier Reef, Snake Gully or the wonderfully named Mount Terrible. Yet even Australia is falling victim to the language trend.
While government and insurance companies are perhaps the biggest offenders, the marketing and communication industries aren't far behind. Terms such as "authoritative qualification" and "deeper consumer engagement" are small examples of a problem that's sucking the life and vigour out of the industry.
We don't speak like this on weekends. So what would make a communications industry speak in a way that's so dense and turgid?
First, the need to impress. People fear that if they use bald, bold language without the jargon, they won't be taken seriously.
Second, modern advertising feeds on the constant creation of media and new ways of using media. With each development comes a new set of terms created by people who want to sound like experts.
Third, people forget or were never taught the fundamentals. I see it in strategy a lot. We forget that we are only ever trying to answer the simple questions. What is the brand's status? Where could the brand be? How can we get there?
It's important that we solve this crisis of language because it creates more distance between our brand's audience and us.
This jargon limits creative thinking and the expression of ideas, while the lack of clarity creates barriers between us and chief executives and chief financial officers, who ultimately need to be convinced of our efficacy.
So what can we do about it? Fresh and different language around a brand can be a great gift an agency can give to a client, as long as the language is expressive. Bring in a writer or journalist to train staff, and ban certain words and phrases at your agency and within your client's business.
Make it fun, silly and rewarding, but, most of all, make it clear. When somebody starts talking gobbledygook in your next meeting, blow raspberries till they stop.
For if we are in the business of communication, shouldn't we say what we mean?
- Jeremy Nicholas is the strategic planning director of BMF Advertising in Sydney.