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All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« Mumbo vs. Jumbo | Main | Colors or numbers? »

Words are hooks, words are levers

There's a debate raging in my town over whether or not to replace the existing planted-grass school football field with what used to be known as Astroturf. One side has already won a crucial victory: the local paper calls the new alternative, "turf."

Turf is what we call a racetrack, or half a fancy dinner (surf and...). Turf is short and punchy and feels organic. If they had called it 'plastic' or 'fake grass' or 'artificial turf', every conversation would feel different before we even started.

What to call the new diamonds that are being manufactured in labs, not dug out of the ground under horrible conditions? Some want them to be called 'artificial diamonds' or not diamonds at all. Others might prefer 'flawless' diamonds (because they are) or 'perfect'.

Is it a 'course', a 'group' or a 'club'? It might be all three, but the word you choose will change the anchor and thus the leverage that word has going forward. Are you a 'consultant', an 'advisor' or a 'coach'?

Engineers and doctors and other scientists seem to think they're skipping all of this when they use precise, specific language. But the obvious specificity and the desire to scare off untrained laypeople is in itself a form of leverage.

For politicians and others that want to re-invent the language for their own ends--you can work to plant your hook anywhere you choose, but if you torture the meaning and spin, spin, spin, you risk being seen as a manipulator, and all your leverage disappears. If your hook finds no purchase, you have no leverage.

On the other hand, the great brands (Pepsi, Kodak, etc.) planted words that meant nothing and built expensive fortresses around their words, words that now have emotional power.

The only reason words have meaning is because we agree on what they mean. And that meaning comes from associating those words with other words, words that often have emotional anchors for us. This isn't merely the spin of political consultants. It goes right to the heart of how we (and our ideas) are judged.

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« Mumbo vs. Jumbo | Main | Colors or numbers? »