22 June 2007

Meaningless tripe...

I was reading the Economist last night. I don't normally give the advertisements more than a cursory glance, but one for Unisys caught my eye. It was very orange. It didn't contain a lot of copy so I'm going to reproduce it all for you here:

UPGRADE YOUR BEST-CASE SCENARIO.
UNLEARN OUTSOURCING.

Even outsourcing's benefits have benefits. The best way to realize them is to unlearn your misconceptions about outsourcing. Unisys Outsourcing Solutions offer the proven processes, unique methodologies, and the innovation you need to manage risk, adapt to change and accelerate the benefits of your best-case transformation scenario. Our Solutions for Secure Business Operations can optimize your business performance and your competitive advantage. For maximizing your full business potential, outsourcing is a win-win scenario. Unlearning is just the beginning.

What?! It's like they put all the tech industry bullshit in a bag, threw it on the table and copied it verbatim.

"Upgrade your best-case scenario, processes, methodologies, innovation, manage risk, adapt to change, transformation, win-win" ...and surely having to "unlearn your misconceptions" is some sort of double negative?

What I'd love is for a copywriter to come over here - maybe The Friendly Ghost or Matthew Stibbe - and explain where there's any merit in that piece of copy whatsoever.

12 comments:

Andrew Smith said...

How exactly does one accelerate a benefit?

And perhaps they've been taking tips from these guys:

http://www.unlearning.org/

NB Helping Humans Unlearn since 1998 - as opposed to chimpanzees or alien beings?

Fiona Blamey said...

I'm a copywriter. That copy doesn't mean anything, but then a lot of people in the tech industry don't seem to understand the value of writing things in plain English.

I've lost count of the times I've been asked to put in more jargon because what I wrote sounded 'too simplistic'. Sometimes I think people fear telling the truth in case the truth doesn't sound impressive enough.

A and B the C of D said...

I agree wit Fiona. Tec PR seems to demand the use of a lot of tosh and drive. My pet-hate is aving to refer to everything as 'soltions'. I mean - c'mon!

Copy reads best when you write how you speak - can you imagine talking to your mates in the same language that many press releases are written in?

BenSchmark said...

Ah, but have you ever had a client use your work, publish it word for word on their web site and then refuse to pay you?

And then make endless telephone death threats when you summonsed them to a small claims court?

People need their jargon. Buzzwords are like corporate comfort blankets. If you try to take their jargon away, they act like cornered rats.

It's a wonderful life.

Andrew Smith said...

Orwell wrote "Politics and the English Lanuage in 1945 - but what he said then applies now - and no more so than to the tech PR business (go here for the full essay - well worth reading: http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi
/work/essays/language.html

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

"When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."

"Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.

The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style."

Andrew Smith said...

And this is worth remembering too:

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between tech PR and the debasement of language becomes clear.

(OK, I changed a few words in that last sentence...)

Fiona Blamey said...

That's good stuff Andrew. I think Orwell should have added another question:

5. Who am I writing it for?

I suppose that, being a novelist and all that, he didn't have to think about who his audience was. Whereas in the business copywriting world, that's the first thing you should ask, even above 'what am I trying to say?'.

It's always the first question I ask, and I'm always amazed at the amount of people who have no real idea who they're trying to communicate to. How many times have I heard 'oh, you know, C-level, line of business, IT - everyone really'.

When you think you're communicating with 'everyone really', it's no wonder you end up writing nonsense like that.

figgis said...

>My pet-hate is aving to refer to everything as 'soltions'.<

Mne iis baad spleeingg

Alexander said...

There are a number of these:

http://dack.com/web/bullshit.html

on the Web. This is quite a good one. I think someone's copywriting team has been using it.

Some journalists I know play 'bullshit bingo' at pressers. The easy way to do this is here: http://www.bullshitbingo.net/cards/bullshit

Just thought I'd help...

Anonymous said...

Great copy - it begins (rather arrogantly, I think) with the presumtion that the reader inevitably has a misconception about outsourcing....which is probably something of a misconception in itself?

Why don't they just start with "You are stupid and you need help"...?

SpiderJ said...

I worked on the Unisys PR account a while back - and trust me, they wanted to spout the same rubbish to journalists, too.

I was chucked a thick wad of PowerPoint presentations full of this malarky and told to 'create a pitch' that they could use to set up a European round table event.

Thankfully their internal processes are as confused as their external burblings and the round table got postponed about 4 times. By then my contract was up - the joy!

Friendly Ghost said...

Did someone call my name?

The copy is pretty atrocious. I agree with the earlier copywriter who said that they had copy rejected because it was considered 'simplistic'. There's a difference between simple and simplistic - the former is good while the latter means 'oversimplified' - but I have a hunch the copywriter's copy was simple and effective which the client considered simplistic.

The best copy is short, direct, avoids cliche, avoids patronising the audience, avoids jargon, and actually says something in an attractive and effective way that achieves what the client wants it to achieve.

I think the mistake the writer has made throughout this is to try and sound too clever, and has come across as arrogant. A lot of assumptions have been made about the target audience - mainly, I'd guess, that they're like the writer - and that's a classic mistake to make.

Stylistically it's pretty bad. By the time I get to the end of the sentence "Unisys Outsourcing Solutions offer the proven processes, unique methodologies, and the innovation you need to manage risk, adapt to change and accelerate the benefits of your best-case transformation scenario" I've forgotten how it started.

As has been mentioned it's also incorrect. You can't accelerate a benefit. This is just lazy. The copywriter probably dashed it off, thought it sounded great, but then didn't really go through it and figure out whether it all hung together properly.

I'd also say that the copy pretty much tells me nothing. Proven processes, optimiz(s)ed performance, maximiz(s)ing potential, I mean these are all really hackneyed phrases. And there is a deal of redundancy here. Would you ever not want to optimise? Would ever not want to maximise?

The only good thing going for it is that they kind of got the attention with the 'unlearn outsourcing' title which is largely meaningless but enough to catch the eye.

So I'd say it's lazy, unfocused, loose copy. It's an example of bad copy that doesn't say anything, and doesn't even say it well. It sort of 'feels' like ad copy which is probably what the copywriter got off on: it starts with a neat little sentence and ends with another little tie-up, but it's not very effective.

One point that I'd also make which might sound contentious: having spoken with quite a few of our US colleagues they really do like all this corporate speak. They're really hot on maximising potentials and realising business outcomes. I'm not sure whether it's a cultural thing - perhaps they think Brits are needlessly direct (or simplistic!) - but I'd hazard a guess that this originates in the US (and not just because of the US spelling). This might make it less of a boo-boo but it still isn't great.

Nice exercise. I should do this more often ie find some appalling copy and write about it - or indeed good copy and praise it.