If you’re lacking power, don’t worry. There are a lot of people who can sell you something for that. At the time of writing, about 80 press releases in the last week were promising some form of empowerment.
Whether it’s from the ambitiously named Empower MediaMarketing (“Understanding is the bottom line”), which among other recent empowerments organised a Discovery Channel Shark Week promotion for Long John Silver Fish Tacos, or the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (“to inspire, empower , educate and entertain by showcasing the best golf professionals in the world”), or even the Center for Applied Identity Management Research‘s ongoing efforts “to empower and engage with clients in combating identity theft crimes and mitigating fraud”, there’s a lot of empowerment available – if you can pay for it.
Which isn’t really the point of a word that once described how you give victims of discrimination or poverty the ability to change their lives. Empowerment had an ethical and political meaning, which doesn’t have much relevance to tacos or golf.
The releases that mention empowerment on PR Newswire confirm that empowerment in 2009 usually involves a commercial transaction. It’s empowerment in the sense that if you buy a pair of jeans from me, I empower you to wear some new trousers.
Or, rather: “Possession of the Talk Normal LegRight Solution (TM) empowers the global community of potential denim-wearers to actualise our jeans dreams!” See? We can all get into the action.
According to Factiva, quite a few businesses are getting into it. Empowerment went almost unmentioned until recently, but not now:
I get it: it’s no longer enough to sell us a product, we have to buy a better life. Marketers have hijacked the idea of empowerment to do this, because it’s a no-risk proposition. “We don’t make promises,” these empowerers tell us, “we just sell you something to help you change yourself.”
They don’t make you happy; but they are willing, for a fee, to claim they empower you to achieve happiness. It’s not their fault if you’re too stupid, ugly, poor (or powerless) to make the best of it.
Commercial empowerment: if it works they take the credit. If it doesn’t, that’s your problem.