Phrases to Die (four)

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(in which I come alarmingly close to sounding like Andy Rooney)

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I am a big fan of living in the industrialized world in the early 21st century. I like gadgets, I like whiz-bang graphics, I like spending endless hours sitting in front of a computer being productive while not having to move any of the major muscle groups.

BUT. Things have gotten out of hand, and here I am pointing the finger at marketing departments of every major company and editorial departments of every technology magazine. What started out as trumpeting a genuine ability to do stuff we couldn’t do before has turned into a farcical exercise of touting imaginary revolutions. Back in the day, yeah, we needed computers that could run faster. We needed software that could balance checkbooks and do page layout. Color screens were a nice step forward. But now we’re pretty much good to go.

Every so often some new gadget comes along that is useful, even cool. I don’t need any of them, though. Maybe one gadget every couple years. I used to jump just like Pavlov’s dogs every time the latest something would come out. I’d think and scheme and plan how to leverage this and sell that so I could afford the other. The other would arrive and I’d plug it in and set it up, and it would work pretty okay. But sooner or later it lost its glamour and became just another Thing, and things break. Things have problems, they have bugs or incompatabilities with other things that you don’t realize until you use them for a while.

After watching enough glamorous purchases turn into mere things, I finally learned to look at a product as a thing beforehand, while everyone is supposed to be entranced by its supernova looks and packaging. This cool-headed technique has saved me literally thousands of dollars so far. I can also take pride in doing my part to slow down our alarming trade deficit with all those gadget-producing nations.

The really annoying thing is that while every economist knows that people are buying fewer gadgets, no one in marketing seems to have realized that it’s time to cool the hyperbole machines. Page after page keeps getting cranked out with ad copy that literally compares you, the consumer, with the Master of the Universe once you buy the next great gizmo. This stuff is uninformative and boring to read, for starters. But more than that, people know (or they learn) that the more you buy something based on glamour, the bigger the let-down will be once the gizmo becomes just another thing in your house.

So here are my top four contenders for meaningless hype phrases that I never want to see again. Which is not to say that truly useful or exciting things shouldn’t be advertised as such. But really, we’re all tired of the bullshit, so let’s just stop it. Starting with these:

Unleash the Power of (fill in the blank). You will never again catch me reading any article that exposes how to unleash the power of anything. What possible good can this do? Why can’t Product X be powerful while it’s still leashed and under my control? I walk my dog on a leash. When I unleash him, he runs away. Why would I want your product to run away? And if you’re trying to say that without your product I may never tap into my inherent capabilities as a human being, that’s not just silly, it’s offensive. I never want to hear about Unleashing the Power of anything, ever again.

In a similar vein, I do not wish to Take Control of my desktop, my email, filing system, washing machine, or sewer connection. I am happy with the control I already have by virtue of being able to unplug or toss out anything that no longer works. I may or may not explore how to use more of the buttons on my remote. I might never learn more of the commands or hidden features of the software I own. If I do, you’ll be the first to know. But let’s call it what it is: Learning. I already am in control. I made a decision to buy something, and maybe someday I’ll make a decision to sell it. That’s control. All the rest, it’s called learning, and it’s what ordinary people do every day. If you’re telling me I can become a superhero, I’ll give you thirty seconds to make the pitch. Other than that, just treat me like an adult.

Giving You the Tools You Need. (more a blast at education, but marketers also take note) In August I went to help my daughter get settled at her new college. At the orientation we sat and listened for two and a half hours as the president, the CEO, Dean of Undergraduates, and a couple department chairs gave their spiels. Not one of them talked about giving my daughter the tools she needed to succeed at anything. I nearly wept with gratitude. I don’t think I have been to an orientation or graduation from pre-school to college in the last twenty years where some poor drone hasn’t waxed poetic about finding somewhere in that institution the tools needed to succeed. Rule of thumb: Skills are useful. Tools can be bought. Neither guarantees success. When graduates use this language, they don’t know what success is. When administrators use it, neither does the school. Proceed accordingly.

We Sell Solutions. No you don’t. You sell products, or services, or a combination of the two. A solution is a strategy or plan to solve a critical problem, for instance world hunger. Anything I buy that comes with an instruction manual is not a solution. It is a product. If I figure out how to configure your product it might help me solve some problems, but it is not in itself a solution to anything. Moreover, anything that requires me talking to somebody in Malaysia is not a solution. If you want to sell me a $100 upgrade next year and the year after that, you are not even selling products. You are selling packages of problems which only the next upgrade will fix.

Still not sure what you are selling? Then please, do us all a favor and go home early. Get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning, and maybe after a shower and a hot cup of coffee, you’ll discover something genuinely unique and valuable that has yet to be written about your product or service. When you figure out what that is, I’m all ears.

5 thoughts on “Phrases to Die (four)

  1. Thorn Coyle

    You are fabulous.

    But you do **need** my new Devotional Dance DVD which just arrived today!

    BTW, have you seen Century of the Self? The BBC 3 part documentary on the invention of “public relations”? It is great and shows how Freudian psychology was used to shift things from a need based economy to a want based economy.

  2. steward

    Well, chemical companies sell solutions.

    Like we used to say in Chem class,

    “If you’re not part of the solution… you’re part of the precipitate.”


  3. Chas S. Clifton

    The trouble is, it’s hard to tell inventive humans that they can stop now.

    Every time I buy a new computer, I think “This is enough.” Then some important application (Adobe InDesign, for instance), is updated to where the old machine doesn’t run it well.

    But you know, I still use my 1948 Olivetti typewriter too.

    But you’re right, in just software, we have more power than sense. I love Apple, but I don’t need Garage Band because I do not create or mix music, and I don’t plan to learn. Yet it comes installed.

    As you say, it’s just another Thing.

  4. Pingback: Blog o’ Gnosis » Blog Archive » Meme: Passion Quilt

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