Caution: You are entering a jargon-filled zone. The following words and phrases may help to advance your career with managers and clients who are impressed by empty industry lingo. Conversely, they may stunt your verbal growth and make you a gigantic bore around the office. Your choice.
“We work in this space.” Courtesy of our friends in Silicon Valley. As fast as the technology field pumps out whiz-bang products and mints multimillionaires, it coins new and horrible buzzwords. This one is particularly annoying. It is used, in a casual but forthright manner, to claim some expertise or market advantage. For instance, a marketing director at DigiCorp says, “We compete in that space against NetSoft, but they are really not in the same space given the relations we have with the channels, the suppliers, the installed base, the legacy systems, blah blah blah.”
Ad agencies are now unfortunately adding this phrase to their vocabularies. Direct marketing? “We work in that space.” Online sales promotion? “We work in that space.” Sorry. The only people qualified to use this expression are those who literally work or trade in “space.” Interior designers, commercial real-estate brokers and astronauts. That’s it. Not you.
“We expect to do breakthrough, cutting-edge work on the account.” Mouthed by nearly every account executive who has just had the thrill of landing a new piece of business. Makes the client look smart and brave, the agency clever and edge-cuttingly creative. The reality, of course, is that breakthrough work is exceedingly rare and doesn’t need to announce itself. And, like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon, where all children are above average, all advertising cannot “break through” the clutter. Most ads are the clutter.
Few agencies can rightly claim to do “breakthrough” work. And even when they do, there’s a good chance the client will decide later that it didn’t want to break through quite that much, thank you. (See Goodby and Norwegian Cruise Lines.) It’s the exceptional client and agency, like Nike and Wieden, that can mutually insist on savaging its own work and running only the strongest survivors.
Not that there’s anything wrong with doing competent, emotionally on-target ads. I doubt David Ogilvy ever promised a client he would do “cutting edge” work.
“We are in the business of value-added services.” Here’s one from the MBA crowd. After manufacturers realized in the late 1980s that consumers wouldn’t keep paying higher, inflation-fueled prices for the same ordinary products, the consultants got busy. They decided that a price increase could be passed through as long as it was masked as “value-added.” Consumers weren’t that easily fooled, since folks like Sam Walton kept cutting prices for them.
Chief execs, however, fell for this one like a boxer with a glass chin. Once they had spent a fortune on re-engineering, they could announce their lean-and-mean outfit would now deliver “value-added” goods and services. Agencies embraced this term to avoid mere vendor or commodity status. Yet, when does an agency ever admit to providing “value-subtracted” service? -Eric Garland