Why Your Creative Brief Needs to Ask: How Important Are Words for Getting the Message Across?

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. MARK TWAIN

Are you facing a word crisis? Not just which word is the right word but what form of the word is the right form? This is a question that now needs to be answered in your creative brief when taking on a new client.

It would be wonderful for writers if language was static. “This is how our ancestors wrote and so this is how we write today.” Actually if that was the case, we would all be writing phonetically. It has taken 1500 years for English to become what it is today. Starting as a mish-mash of communication with symbols and letters taken from Romans, Irish and German tribes, people just wrote it as it sounded, there was no form or rule like “i” before “e” except after “c”.

It is a good thing that language is organic and has been able to absorb the enormous deposit of words that came from the Danes and Vikings, followed by the Latin and French. Throughout earlier centuries, there have many attempts to create a “one-size fits all” form of writing English. It hasn’t been successful.

Language flows with the changes in culture and readily accepts new words when then drop into the stream. Coffee, for instance, is now a staple, universally understood word in English, although its origins are Arabic and Turkish. But today, how many euphemisms do we have in the language for it? Latte, java, joe, chino, brew, just to name some of them.

If you go into any bookstore or browse books online you can find many books written just to correct the mis-use of language and words. Vivian Cook (Professor of Applied Linquistics at the University of Newcastle) in his book Accomodating Broccolli in the Cemetary: or why can’t anybody spell? believes we should celebrate the mutation of spelling. In his words: The greatest asset of English has always been its flexibility. He believes that in this international world of instant communication, it is important that international use of English is not too closely tied to speech.

His point being that in the English-speaking world it is quite common to not be able to understand English when you hear it (a broad Scottish accent comes quickly to mind). However if you write to someone in English no matter what country, state or borough they live in, they will understand your message.

When it comes to writing copy that sells, writers face so many dilemmas. A lot of them come from not really being able to bring themselves to mess with the rules of the written word. Afta awl, if I wos to rite this hole rticle ignawring proper speling & punchewation, it would be tedious and you would not have even gotten this far.

It is a sign of our viral world that the distinctions are now blurring between the rightness of good English spelt well and having fun with it to drive a point home.

It is still reasonable and expected by most that serious writing, papers, assignments, articles, web content follow the rules and form for good literature but in the marketing and immediate communication world, there is no limit to the distortion and play on words, euphemisms etc that a good writer of copy can conjure up.

Words are so important to the message. Be it the one perfect word that shines like a multi-faceted diamond in the midst of the ad campaign or a string of precise, chosen words that convey a depth of emotion, or feeling and bring about a desired response. In today’s world of branding and marketing, many companies are deliberately messing with words to get their advertising across. They want to change our culture as it is well-known that the way to move or change a culture is through language and the deliberate use of words and word imagery.

Only recently, I saw a billboard that said ‘Mini is the new Big’. Being a copy writer my first thought was, “Ah clever!” but being a lover of English, my second thought was “Wait a minute, that doesn’t even make sense!”

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