Marketers use words for many different purposes, to persuade, to cajole, to express urgency, to instill fear, to provide an identity, to convey calm or safety or trustworthiness. We’re like superheroes, in that we can use those powers connected to words for good or for evil, to help customers find the perfect item or service, or to drive them to register for a worthless but exciting-sounding product that they may regret later if indeed they ever receive it. Despite a documented decrease in the average person’s vocabulary inventory, the power of words has never been stronger. How far can that trend be extended?
Our fervent hope is that it be reversed, that the general populace realize the power of words, the need for a full-scale, broad-spectrum education, which can open doors far beyond computers and technology. As little as 50 years ago, the average American high school graduate had a strong grasp of their own language, could read and write at a reasonably consistent level, and was equipped with the tools to take them as far in life as they could achieve using public, published information sources. The library was a place of knowledge, of reverence, and for those equipped to use it to its fullest potential, a place of wonder and excitement.
Today, that same American graduate has a smaller functional vocabulary, lower level spelling skills, is slower to comprehend what they read, and can often not fully absorb the daily newspaper, which is typically written on an 8th grade reading level. They can also carry a small library in their hand, on a digital reader with a collection of public domain books, and with an internet-connected tablet, can learn things about the world around them every minute of every day. However, the words may be there and be readable by nearly all, but the wisdom and the editorial judgement and curation that vets those words are no longer present, so the onus is on the reader to choose their sources wisely, to choose who to believe very carefully. Inaccurate words have the same power as the accurate ones, and travel just as quickly.
Marketers of questionable ethics and flexible morals have been known to take advantage of the power that words possess, to portray a situation or product in a certain light that might take advantage of those whose comprehension of words and their discernment of nuance of phrases might be diminished. Good marketers know they needn’t stoop to that level to be fantastically successful at what they do, to engage and persuade and enlighten audiences and provide a gentle nudge toward purchase. But the internet has become a playground for the more nefarious among us, causing the average person to act with additional caution when reading anything online, regardless of its source.
Marketers need to remind themselves that this tactic of deceit and misdirection is a game of diminishing returns, that the more tricks, click bait, misleading tags and headlines that appear, the fewer people who will investigate anything in that channel overall, reducing response rates and cutting profits to the point where the credibility of digital outreach will reach a low ebb, and a new approach will have to be put in place. Those who are agile and can adapt to the new paradigm with flourish, those who are more Tyrannosaur-like will perish in the aftermath of the volcano. Be mindful of the power of words that you hold in your hands – misuse of that power affects us all . . .