Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Worst slogan ever

Hang onto your wallet. The following sexy words will make you lose it and your mind …

You ready? OK, I warned you:
"By combining the best practices of thousands of member companies with our advanced research methodologies and human capital analytics, we equip senior leaders and their teams with insight and actionable solutions to transform operations."
You're twitterpated, right? Your pulse races! You want whatever this is, right now, or you'll die! It had you at "human capital analytics," right?


Or maybe you consider it one of the worst business slogans ever devised? Something for which a Dilbert would need to be invented, if Scott Adams hadn't already, so he could prick this bag of wind? Yeah, that's what I think.

I heard this over a National Public Radio station a week or so ago. I'm sure it had been repeated for weeks before I finally paid attention. You NPR listeners know how it is; you're hoping weeks of subconscious listening, of auditory osmosis, will turn you into an expert on the Syrian crisis for the next dinner party, when the names and nuances spill out of your mouth to everyone's surprise, including yours.

The sponsors' spiels spill over you until all you hear is the cadence — Angie's List™… Novo Nordisk© … Sit4Less and the exclusive Herman Miller Aeron® chair in True Black™©®. They're not even things or services, not even words, just sounds, onomatopoeia. When sponsors stop sponsoring, that's when you notice them. Or by the oddest bit of what is supposed to be the English language.

One day I heard the announcer say "actionable solutions." What in hell is an actionable solution? Is that anything like a plain old unadorned solution? Is actionable anything like workable, a perfectly workable word?

I had to look up the sponsor by googling®™© the words that snagged my ear ("actionable solutions to transform operations"); it turns out, sadly, the phrase is not unique. Among the small pile of possible sponsors, I found the one responsible: Corporate Executive Board, CEB for short. It's "the leading member-based advisory company."

Whatever that is.

I looked around and have concluded maybe they might kind of be consultants, sort of. Hard to tell. Consultant, as in someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, as someone, somewhere, once said.

Except I'm not so sure; the rest of CEB's slogan is, "This distinctive approach, pioneered by CEB, enables executives to harness peer perspectives and tap intro breakthrough innovation and improvement without costly consulting or reinvention." So CEB doesn't consult? What … does … it … do …?

I'm sure CEB doesn't care if I know what it does. High in the corporate stratosphere, where gobbledy and gook spill freely from corporate mouths, people understand. And that's fine.

But why burden NPR listeners with it? Why not substitute a slogan in English for us listeners, who are used to NPR reporters, and Ira Glass, speaking plain English?

Once I was asked to help a company name itself. Before the Internet bust, this company was going to take businesses where they needed to be on the Web. It was back when such companies called themselves "information architects." Yeah, that long ago.

The new company's principals, all very bright, type A+ personalities, rich in experience even in so young a tech über industry, still couldn't tell me what their company did. Not in 10 words, not in more than 100 polysyllabic words, rat-a-tat like Martin Scorsese. They spoke English, I think, but it all came out … well, a lot like the CEB slogan. I didn't end up helping name the company, because it was the company that could not be named.

Another time, I took part in forging a mission statement for the organization where I worked. "Forged" is the correct term, all of us swinging hammers, trying to connect noble words with the chains of articles and punctuation into an inspiring whole.

We brainstormed at special meetings with inviolate rules. We rearranged words and phrase snippets at other meetings with even stricter rules. We contemplated and rearranged. We said the results aloud over and over, in unison, our mantra, until the result sounded like they could be English.

The result was exactly what you would expect if 14 people convened to write a sonnet. Or made magnetic poetry on your refrigerator, with lots of adverbial suffixes.

I have to wonder: What would Dilbert do?

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