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David Harris of gyro: Cannes – please stop making lazy tropes of important words

This year at Cannes, the beating heart of creativity and originality, the seminar line-up has a proliferation of titles that are worryingly similar. In fact, ‘human’ seems to have become the Cannes 2018 buzzword (‘Innovation at the Human Level,’ ‘Who wants to be a human?’ and ‘Human + Machine: Stronger Together in the Age of Co-Creation’).

This should be reassuring for me, I suppose, as at gyro we’ve been talking about ‘human relevance’ for 15 years or so. Yet it’s worrying that ‘human’ is going to go the way of other ‘fat’ words which advertisers seem to love, given that the ‘human’ in the context of the talks at Cannes has little to do with real humanity as we currently know it – rather it is more often about advertising duping real humans (customers and consumers) into thinking that ad tech is somehow sentient.

‘Best’ is the ultimate slob-on-the-sofa, lazy word that has become so fat with meaning it’s become meaningless. It finds its way into clients’ briefs and advertising with no validation or calibration to determine why it is the ‘most outstanding, desirable or unsurpassed’ and as such is just puffery. At 44.72 km/h Usain Bolt is the ‘best’ sprinter. Is the ‘best’ coffee the cheapest, the most ethical or just the one with the poshest packaging? Presumably all of the above.

While we’re at it ‘smart’ could do with sharpening up its definition. ‘Storytelling’ another Cannes favourite is so maligned it’s now evolved into ‘storyscaping’. ‘Uniquely’ obviously isn’t. And why tell us something is ‘unbelievable’: it’s like saying you don’t trust me not to lie to you.

The second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains a staggering 171,476 words in current use. Yet only 3,000 of these are in common parlance. We’re using just 1.75% of the words available to us. The problem for writers isn’t a lack of words to choose from, it’s the number of meanings that each word now has.

It’s a major issue for our industry because, as Professor of Marketing Science Byron Sharp observed, when most brands have nothing to truly differentiate themselves there’s a need for them to be distinctive in their messaging. Brands need to stand out through their description of what they do and why they are important to people. Why, when there are so many words in the English language, do we settle for the same ones over and over again – and dilute their impact in the process? Let’s start redressing the situation by making a concerted effort not to kill ‘human’ just yet and hope that Cannes goes back to originality and creativity rather than inventing lazy advertising tropes.

David Harris is CCO of gyro UK

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