How did we move from generation X to generation Z with words like ‘totes’, ‘selfie’, ‘yolo’, ‘obvs’ and ‘cray cray’ firmly indented in language, so much so that when I typed them, Microsoft Word didn’t even flinch?
‘Neologisms’- that’s the word. It’s the word for those words that became words because a word to describe an idea or thing didn’t exist, that is, before that word came around… Still with me? Words like ‘emoticon’ and ‘staycation’ came around by blending two words together. Exclamations like ‘sick’ came about through a change in meaning. And words like hoover became genericised naturally. Whichever way a word begins its life in the realm of spoken language, for a word to then flow from the fingertips, pens and social media feeds of people the world over, these words need orthographical representation, and once they’ve got it, there’s no stopping them. Before you know it, they’ve sailed down the fast-flowing stream towards social integration, along the river to language diffusion and they’ve made it into the dictionary. You hear people younger (almost certainly cooler than yourself) using these new-fangled words. You laugh. You try to avoid using them, in fact, you mock people for using them. But then the inevitable happens- you begin using them in jest, still in denial that they’re words a person like you could use and you know exactly the kinds of words I’m talking about. We all went to great lengths to stop words like ‘selfie’ infecting our vocabulary until we were blue in the face. We claim that we fought until we could fight no more and yet inevitably it weedled its way in. These days, that’s just the way with words.
Brands like Innocent have mastered the art of conversational tone of voice, but I often wonder, how far can you take it? Should the professional world distance itself or embrace the modern day subculture of abbreviations and words so fresh they’ve barely had their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed- it’s time to weigh up the pros and cons of jumping on the bandwagon.
Using conversational or colloquial language can help cut straight to the core of a very niche group or an entire generation. Case in point; your 85-year-old gran is hardly likely to relate to talk like ‘it’s finger lickin’ good’ and would probably be more disgusted at the prospect of you not using your knife and fork, whilst it’s likely that an advert prompting you to Tweet or download the latest VR app to land in the Play Store is wasted on your grandad. The social-media-savvy, in-the-know millennials amongst us will lap up words like these. We recognise them. We understand them. We relate to them. And most importantly, they’re in our vocabulary. Although a conversational tone of voice is a powerful tool in some contexts, it can isolate or alienate other groups who don’t understand and cannot relate to your brand. Research your audience, study the way they speak and interact with your brand as well as one another. Studying their lexicon will pay off in the long run as it will spark ideas for content and help determine whether asking them to ‘take a selfie using the hashtag #yolo’ is the best idea since pickled cabbage. Also, as well as they do it, we can’t all be Innocent, and using conversational language to try and make friends can sometimes come off as your brand trying too hard. Always work to find your own voice, find out who your target audience is, and like a tourist in a far-away city, learn to speak the basics of their language.
Human or robot?
Many big companies and public figures find it hard to portray their human side. With national and global domination and money on their minds, making friends is often the last thing on the agenda. Language is used to form an emotional connection with an audience- making it one of the most important tools for building a strong brand- especially when finding your brand’s voice. Dropping the odd ‘t’ and throwing in the occasional bit of slang doesn’t mean you’re any less of a businessman or your brand is weakened, instead it helps to show that you’re in touch with more than just corporate strategies and suits. Instead, you’re seen as human and approachable, just like the rest of us. Just look at David Cameron- he may have eaten a hotdog with a knife and fork, but the fact he was eating a hotdog in the first place was his attempt to be human- if we can just translate the metaphor of big brands using cutlery to eat hotdogs into brand communications, we’ll be on to a winner.
Is everyone doing it?
Tucked away somewhere in the far-flung depths of the marketing corridor at a creative agency near you is a team of branding specialists riding a week-long caffeine-fuelled brain-wracking wave in search of the right naming convention for a brand. Sneaking your brand promise into your name is dynamite, but many of the most recognisable brand names and straplines born of these sessions tend to be formed through neologisms, that is, the invention of a new word or phrase. The creation of words or the use of words in a new way is an effective marketing tool, as being a trend setter in a saturated market is sure to get you noticed and remembered, whether people like your branding or not. Look at the likes of Tango. They told us ‘we’d been Tango’d’ and we agreed. As for holidays in the 80s, we no longer booked them, we ‘Thomas Cooked them’. From this point on, turning a brand into a verb seemed to be okay practice. And let’s not forget Compare the Market who told us that using their service was ‘simples’, coining a new word with the simple addition of a suffix. All of these were effective and memorable brand communications, thus proving that there is room to play with new words in the professional world, and who knows, maybe some of these have the power to enter our everyday vocabulary?
Remember that it’s all down to context. Know and judge your audience well. Use your tone of voice correctly. Don’t overdo it. Embrace modern day culture, but always know where to draw the line.