05 Oct

When words don’t work

I’m not just interested in copywriting in the weird and wonderful world of advertising, I’m also interested in communications in general… particularly in politics.

The language (or ‘rhetoric’) used in politics is fascinating; nearly always disingenuous, often recycled, and – nine times out of ten – saying something unpalatable… but in a way that can be squeezed past the general public.

You’ll often hear (certainly in the UK) ‘working people’ referred to, as if politicians are somehow talking in solidarity with those they rule over, and ‘get’ their daily lives.
You’ll hear a review of something, or an investigation, called ‘robust and rigorous’, so that the public feel reassured that investigation/review will be thorough.

When a terrible incident takes place, you’ll often hear the same lines trotted out then… except last week, in America, when nine people lost their lives to another mass shooting at a college.

President Obama went to offer up the ‘usual line’; ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims’.
He realised he couldn’t do that again though: there’s only so many times, in response to the same incident, you can offer the same response.
After a while, that same response just starts to sound hollow, empty, devoid of any meaning.

Instead, President Obama checked himself and said;  ‘Our thoughts and prayers… are not enough’.

If you listen to this, below, at the 1:35 mark, you’ll hear him say it:

I find this fascinating: because there have been so many instances of the same thing happening, President Obama has had to show a little self-awareness, and communicate in a different way.

I wonder if that ever translates to our own, day-to-day lives; are there times when we find, in response to a particular set of circumstances, we use the same phrases over and over again… until they become devoid of all meaning?

Hopefully we’re never responding to something as awful as that which President Obama is, but it’s worth thinking about: can we change what we say to truly reflect what we’re feeling, and convey that in a better way to the people we’re talking to?

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