Posts Tagged 'political correctness gone mad'

It’s called a holiday


Scarborough: a commitment to integrating modern architecture that is perhaps most reminiscent of Barcelona.

Now that most people are mostly back in a country that mostly matches the one on their plane ticket, it’s time to strike an optimistic note about one other thing that didn’t fly last week: the attempt by holiday operator Thomson to popularise the phrase “awaycation” to describe a holiday overseas.

Thanks to Will Randall for showing me the press release, based on a survey by Opinion Matters. It needed someone to point it out to me, because afterwards I could count only four publications that wrote about it – and one of them only printed the word to make fun of it.

The awaycation is the latest shot in marketing’s tedious Buzzword Wars. Imagine, if you will, a group of dedicated marketers and PR people in early 2008, huddled into a meeting room, desperately trying to make the prospect of a week in Scarborough seem attractive to people who would prefer to take their leisure in Ibiza or Florida.

There’s a reason why we choose not to go on holiday to the same places that our parents visited. It’s broadly speaking because, compared to most popular destinations in the world, a British holiday is what travel experts call a bit crap. But call your holiday a staycation” and you’re not just eating overpriced jumbo haddock and chips while watching the drizzle, you’re part of a global economic trend. Also, it gives the travel section something to write about that isn’t holiday companies going down the tubes or how you’re only getting one Euro per Pound.

The tedious buzzword magic worked for the staycation marketers – seven uses of the word before January 2008, more than 4,000 since then –  so in 2010 Thomson, which owns 77 planes and even bought a Boeing 787, needed to work the same magic by describing something like a staycation which involves getting on a flight. Just don’t call it something boringly descriptive like a holiday abroad. It’s much better than that, it’s an awaycation!


This tedious rebirthing isn’t new, because there are so many reasons beyond inspiration-free desperation for marketers to do it. It might just be the self-importance that turns a personnel department into human resources. It might be a way to do an about-turn without making it look like you were wrong, which turns outsourcing into insourcing, rightsourcing or even upsourcing.

Or, sadly, it might be our need to see every event in our lives as a jolly project with a special name and a happy ending. Losing your job has always been a pain for you and an opportunity for buzzword manufacturers. In vogue at the moment: you’re apparently re-careering.

If you have expertise in inventing pointless words for marketing purposes but currently find yourself unavoidably re-careering, perhaps a job in an expanded Ministry of Euphemisms for Bad Things is on the cards. On the evidence of this election, trying to pretend that it’s OK really is one part of the public sector that has continued to expand in the recession. If we’re going to fight the Buzzword Wars, our troops need to have the right euphemisms. Sorry, I meant they need to be optimally resourced with appropriately context-sensitive descriptors. These meaningless government phrases don’t invent themselves, you know.

A quick search shows that even the mildly silly “re-careering” had a better run in the press than “awaycation” has, so far at least. I find this encouraging: we have discovered that it is possible to come up with a marketing buzzword that’s so obviously rubbish that everyone simply ignores it, like a bad smell.


I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand

Durham Tees Valley: flights 56 per cent off

There’s good news and there’s bad news, but there’s more good news. I’m not just trying to make you feel better, there really is. I divided the number of stories mentioning “good news” by those mentioning “bad news”, and there’s a steady increase in good news stories in the last 15 months:

We certainly have pluck. On this sophisticated measure, levels of non-specific hope are even higher than at the height of the boom:

It’s also worth pointing out that the long-term good news ratio in the newspapers is consistently above where it was 20 years ago. And in those days newspapers were in black and white and you had to pay to read about misery rather than just ignoring it on the internet. Terrible days. Still, they didn’t have Richard Littejohn then, so not everything’s changed for the better.

The press might be at a historical hope high because of the dead cat bounce theory (even a dead cat will bounce if it falls far enough. Try it). In this case there is so much real-life bad news that papers have just looked harder for something chipper to write about.

Exhibit A: “Bosses of the region’s two airports say they are seeing the green shoots of recovery,” said a hope-filled article in the Newcastle Journal this week, which, as far as I could see, contained almost no evidence of any green shoots at all. The article is about how the managers of local airports were hoping things would improve after average passenger numbers in the UK fell 7.4 per cent last year. At Newcastle Airport the drop was 9 per cent, and Durham Tees Valley 56 per cent. If you exclude the better-performing airports, the article points out, Newcastle declined less than the average.

Of course, if you exclude enough of the better-performing airports, even Durham Tees performed better than the average. But if you’re the boss you have to tell the local press that stuff is going to get better, honest. It’s your job. I note that it is a journalist’s job to point out when you’re talking crap (a 56 per cent decline in business is a clue in this case). But, sometimes, we all need a hug.

So it is with the “green shoots” mentioned above, now used not as economic analysis, but as a signal of faint and desperate hope that we won’t have to cook our pets for dinner or traffic the kids yet. Business Minister Baroness Vadera in January 2009 and Solicitor General Vera Baird in March 2009 both claimed to have spotted these shoots. They must have a big magnifying glass in the UK Treasury, because GDP fell 2.64 per cent in the quarter beginning in January 2009 , and 0.63 per cent the next quarter.

If you want an example of how meaningless and transient news-based optimism can be, there was a gigantic peak in UK green shoots stories last summer – mostly, in the ones I read, estate agents saying they were a bit busier:

But note how quick they died away. Hope is a powerful drug – but it wears off quickly. Dead cats bounce; just not very high.

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Celebrity Big Brother: Deny the holocaust again, this time by texting your mates

Obviously my close personal connection with Katie Price means I have a personal interest in the outcome of Celebrity Big Brother – though obviously only from the point of view of corporate social responsibility; after all, I’m not a moron. I could go on and on about this, but it’s a better use of your time to listen to Stewart Lee explaining how corporate sponsorship sometimes works. The first five minutes of this clip tell you everything you need to know about “a brand profile awareness marketing marriage made in heaven”:

Don’t give me problems, rename them

It’s too tempting to complain about people using the word solution as a lazy way to describe their product. I’m sure I will get to it soon, but today it just makes my head ache.

Instead I bring you better news: an audacious and delightful innovation in the use of the S-word from the Talk Normal archives. The email is a few years old but I treasure it, as you can see. Hewlett-Packard’s support team sent it to me when I had a problem with a printer and I was getting a little testy in emails to them because they weren’t fixing it for me.

It shows a technical support operation that so wants to bring me good news, and so can’t, that it has adopted plan B: simply redefining the word “problem” as “solution” and emailing my problem back to me to see if I’d notice. Here’s what it said:

Why stop at printer drivers? Innovation like this could, overnight, solve much bigger problems simply by redefining them in a more glass-half-full way. Let us be bold and agitate for Hewlett-Packard’s technical support department to be given control of the biggest problem (soon to be solution) of all: the struggle for world peace. It would take but a few minutes to draft an email declaring that world peace has been achieved, with a proviso that the actual absence of “war” might take some time.

Of course, in the field of world peace, this would be ridiculous. It’s about as likely as someone being given the Nobel Peace Prize not because he had directly caused any peace so far, but because he’d identified and confirmed the current lack of peace, and promised to let us all know when a fix is available.

On the plus side: I remember that HP did eventually email me a printer driver that worked. So it stands to reason we should be optimistic about the other thing.

Avoiding the question

People had excellent specs in the 1980s

I’ll be updating occasionally until the new year, but meanwhile click on the link to use iPlayer to catch up with Jon Sopel’s 15-minute nugget from Radio 4, “Avoiding the Question“, about how politicians do everything they can to avoid giving a straight answer to a straight question.

I wish the spokespeople that I meet would not try to copy the politicians that they heard on the radio that morning. Please stop doing this, not least because you’re not very good at it. In my experience it goes like this:

Spokesperson: While this type of tittle-tattle may be of interest to a small group of journalists back in the real world what we should be talking about are the enormous strides that we have made this year in delivering a world-class inkjet printer cartridge replacement service under enormous and frankly unreasonable pressure from people like yourselves.

Me: So you’re not going to tell me your job title then?

Two reasons to listen: Dr Peter Bull, a psychologist from York University, has identified 35 different ways that politicians use to avoid answering a question. And Daniel Finkelstein recalls the story that Dr David Owen once fell asleep on TV. The interviewer asked what he thought of the point that Geoffrey Howe had just made. He woke up and said:

That’s not the real issue in this election.

changed the subject, and carried on. Now that’s a class act. Just please don’t copy it.

Happy Gifting Season!

Don't let small children see this picture

It’s that time of year again: the time when the press runs stories about how loony councils are stealing Christmas. Evidently, it’s political correctness gone mad. Every year you have to start your Christmas rant earlier to beat the rush, and so I discover that the Bishop of Lichfield kicked off the annual they’re stealing our Christmas season more than a month ago.

Religion looks like it is on the way out here, but tell it to the Pagans: they will tell you that no one gets to keep the Winter holiday for ever, you just get to mind it for a while until someone takes it by rebranding it as their own celebration.

The classic scare story is that Birmingham tried to rebrand Christmas as Winterval so that non-Christians wouldn’t get upset. Then there’s Luminos in Luton, for example, which regularly gets remembered as the council’s attempt to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Let’s get this straight: the stories are dangerous rubbish.

Winterval’s a pretty silly name, but you try and find something catchy to call the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali, Eid, and all the other festivals at this time of year. Not to mention, for example, the Pagan holiday called Yule.

Our quaint British War on Christmas worries is small beer compared to what’s going on in the weird mind of Bill O’Reilly at Fox News in the US, where such happenings are part of secular progressive agenda that includes legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage.

That’s one hell of an office party.

If you want to find out who is doing the rebranding, loony councils and crazy teachers are an easy target. But I’ve noticed a charming phrase that’s popping up in news stories and even more in press releases: it appears December is becoming Gifting Season. I can’t find a mention of the phrase before the mid-1980s, and around two thirds of all the mentions of Gifting Season I could find in the press have occurred since 2006. It’s really the only phrase that conveys the profound and committed consumerism of:

The Container Store™ Thinks Outside the Box with the Selection of CashStar’s Online Gift Cards, or

Carphone Warehouse’s 21 new mobile phones.

The Gifting Season may be shallow and cynical, but it is also a profound and spiritual phrase for the marketing communications enthusiasts among us, because you get to have it both ways: on the surface it promotes the spirit of giving, but it has never been used without some mention of how you should spend your money.

But you won’t find irate Gifting Season articles in the press this year. In this economy newspapers and networks know better than to turn their fake outrage on the greatest Seasonal Gift of all: the gift of advertising.

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