A few years back I was giving a talk in Berlin to a group of business people.

Being Germans, they were taking thorough notes.

Afterwards one of them approached me and opened his pad.

He said “Excuse me, you mentioned a demographic that we are not familiar with.

Can you tell me please what is this: “punters”?”

I then had an awkward five minutes explaining that it was just cockney slang.

In my speech, I’d been guilty of using sloppy language.

Germans use language very precisely and I don’t.

I wasn’t using language to communicate, I was using what was comfortable.

Consequently I knew what I meant, but my audience didn’t.

That’s sloppy language.

That’s not the way to communicate.

But that’s exactly what we do in our business, when we use jargon.

We don’t speak to communicate, we speak to make ourselves feel comfortable.

We think we’re being impressive, but actually it’s just sloppy language.

We can either use language to invite people into a conversion, or we can use language to keep people out.

And that’s what jargon is designed to do, keep people out.

To make it seem that our job is only for the trained and the educated.

But if advertising is about anything, it should be about communicating with ordinary people.

So why is the sort of language we use the exact opposite?

It’s designed to give us the status of doctors, scientists, lawyers, pilots, engineers.

Well those professions may need technical language, but we don’t.

In truth, our jargon is designed just to make us feel good, not for communication.

The best definition of communication is as follows: “It’s not enough to take responsibility for speaking correctly – we must take responsibility for being heard correctly.”

So the start point should be using easily understood language.

But we don’t do that.

We don’t do that, because our language is designed to obfuscate, to confuse.

To make people think we know something they don’t.

To make our job seem as technical as doctors, scientists, lawyers, pilots, engineers.

So we disguise what we are saying with complicated words and expressions that only the cognoscenti will understand.

Language that says “If you understand this you can be in the club. If you don’t you can’t.”

So we use language to exclude people.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to an eleven-year-old then you haven’t really understood it.”

Most people in advertising couldn’t explain their jobs in language an eleven-year-old would understand.

So, according to Einstein, they don’t understand what they’re doing.

And they use language to disguise that fact.

If we had to use ordinary language, it would soon become clear who did and didn’t know what they were doing.

The best people would be people who could describe their job in language anyone could understand.

But that’s not who we’re employing nowadays.

We’re employing people whose skill is solely in covering up the fact that they don’t understand what they’re doing.


They may not know much about advertising, but they are proficient in sloppy language.