“About us: we’re a community of constant explorers, travelling the globe and breaking open horizons to breathe beauty into life”. OK, so do you know what this company does yet? Are they selling financial services? Widgets? Cakes? Clothes? Cars? Agricultural machinery? Probably not the last one, I’ll admit.

Let’s read further: “We honour our rich heritage, with an eye for the future. Our adventures bring the fuel. They bring us closer to our community, as we make meaningful connections across the globe. We surface unexpected experiences, challenge perspectives, test our limits”. Nope, I still don’t know what they do.

Sarah Lockett WFH 2021
Sarah Lockett WFH 2021

Does the satirical magazine “Private Eye” still have that regular column called Pseud’s Corner? Yes, they do! I just checked. It lists pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, especially convoluted and impenetrable jargon featured in the media. Well, these are good candidates for the column.

I am not having a go at any company that chooses to describe itself like this. Well, actually I am. But in fact, this particular company is quite successful/well-known/profitable. So – what do I know? If it’s working for them, good luck to them! But I do have a personal bee-in-my-bonnet about this sort of vague, high-falutin, ‘mission-statement-ey’ speak.

The opposite, I suppose, is the straight-forward “We manufacture cars” type of advertising; the “Boxy, but good” slogan favoured by Volvo in the 1990s (they ran with this tagline after it was created by a group of mental health patients in the 1990 Dudley Moore film “Crazy People”). Instead of bringing in the lawyers, they built on it – it was genius!

And I am not an advertising guru, so maybe the Pseud’s Approach works? We know that people do want to know about a company’s values, their Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR), their ethics, sustainability, energy use etc. But – as I am a writer, a journalist and a communications trainer – I would say that I know something about words, language and tone. And the vague, almost nonsensical approach annoys me. If you are going to make a high-concept statement (eg “We’re energetic and driven. We want to live life to the full and we use our bold, enthusiastic spirit to keep us moving forward” (this is all from the same website, by the way. In fact, it’s from the same page of the same website!) – then immediately clarify it with an example. So, something like, “For example, we never use palm oil in our products because of the damage to the environment caused by growing it.”

That’s just my take, and feel free to ignore it. Certainly, when you do media interviews (which is my main area of expertise when I do comms training), don’t speak in the airy-fairy, high-concept, vague style of ‘values-driven’ ponciness featured on this website. Unless you immediately say, “OK, I know that sounds impenetrable, but what I mean is: x and y etc…”.

Just my two penn’orth. Thanks for reading 🙂

Sarah Lockett

Sarah Lockett is a former BBC News / Sky News anchor who currently presents a variety of content for corporate clients and delivers media training.
She has presented on BBC News and Sky News, plus reported for Channel Four News, 5 News, Reuters and others.
She now hosts webinars and conferences, chairs corporate/academic panel discussions, hosts award ceremonies and events. She writes, presents and produces training videos, as well as voiceovers (both factual and drama/comedy). She has written two books and is also working as an actor.

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