Jane Austin: confounding clients and alienating friends – Cannes’ top buzzwords


And we’re back, so let’s take some time to overcome our recently acquired social anxiety and mentally prepare ourselves. One way to get back into the swing is to remaster the art of buzzword-ery. Yes, the time has come to confound your clients and alienate your friends with the most fashionable word salad you can concoct in 2022, and we’re here to help. No, thank you

Obviously, ‘Web3’, ‘NFTs’, ‘the metaverse’ and anything relating to Mark Zuckerberg’s dystopian and slightly naff vision for the future will be the talk of the town. Just airdrop the words ‘decentralization’ or ‘digital twin’ into the conversation and watch everyone around you simultaneously glaze over and nod along knowingly. What you definitely won’t hear at Cannes in relation to Web3 are the terms ‘mass surveillance’ and ‘exploitative advertising’, because that’s the sort of talk that can get you turfed out of the Meta party.

Arguably the most sustainable thing about this industry is its ability to generate and recycle buzzwords. Aptly enough, ‘sustainability’ is one of the most re-used of these. ‘Sustainability’ works so well because not only does it have an inherent worthiness, it’s unbelievably vague. Because the word itself is so sustainable, it’s likely to be used as a verbal fig leaf by this industry until the end of time – which, as the world is going up in smoke around us, shouldn’t be much longer now.

This year, there will also be much ado about ‘brand activism’, ‘recalibrating purpose’, and ‘human-centred design’. And in contrast to the lack of actual diversity and inclusivity at Cannes, the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ will be everywhere. As equity is frequently mistaken for equality, expect some fudging over the ‘E’ word.

Meanwhile ‘storytelling’, a buzzword we hoped never to hear again, is making a resurgence. Ryan Reynolds is bringing storytelling back. According to the Cannes Lions programme, the Deadpool star is planning to talk about “next generation storytelling”. It’s a tough ask, but if anyone can make storytelling sexy again, it’s Ryan Reynolds.

Let’s also give a shout out to those ‘words’ that seem concocted especially for events like Cannes Lions but don’t stand a chance of catching on. Enter ‘collaborativity’, an abomination that Alma DBB and Pepsi saw fit to put in the title of their session at the Palais this year: “Yielding Unapologetic Creativity Through ‘Collaborativity’”. A mouthful too far, even by advertising industry standards.
Alma DDB and Pepsi, stop trying to make ‘collaborativity’ happen.

Finally, we’ll be saying goodbye to a buzzword that has all-too-rapidly fallen out of favour. Like toilet roll, ‘empathy’ was a must-have during the early days of the pandemic, but the last two years seem to have exhausted the industry supply. So quit complaining because it’s back to work people. Up the workers.

Jane Austin is Founder of Persuasion Communications.
Photograph: Bronac McNeill

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