Should Curbing Violence Start with Words?

This summer, we’ve been horrified by tragic mass shootings in Wisconsin and Colorado.  Closer to home, several senseless gunfire incidents have jolted Toronto. We shake our heads, grieve for the victims and then move back to business.

The problem is business, particularly marketing, often means talking about the new killer app, killer collection or even killer strategies, which if executed well, will generate multiple hits and create die-hard fans. Sometimes we reduce the impact to just assault with a genteel alternative, such as “kick-ass,” as in kick-ass campaign but it’s still hostile. And as the scope widens, we talk about “ad wars” and “annihilating the competition.”  Similarly when a firm’s reputation is on the line, we set-up a “war room.”

I don’t think this practice is exclusive to English.  I once discovered “blood bath” and other violent terms peppered throughout business copy I was editing for an Asian client.  As blood bath didn’t suit North American business conventions, I substituted with more precise terms to describe the urgency and high stakes. (The client described my editing as “making it more polite.”)

Sure business is competitive and a successful approach stands out and is often extreme but must it be aligned with murder or violence?

More importantly: what’s the fallout of violent rhetoric?  In the wake of the 2011 Tuscan shootings, Rev. Barbara Kaufmann covered this practice in a Huffington Post article and how it is often subtly or subliminally used in marketing to prompt action or even aggression.  She also cited Deborah Schaffer, a Montana State University professor who has studied inflammatory and prejudicial speech since the nineties and states that “language can be used to stir up and manipulate emotions…sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.”

Am I reading more into the marketing language we frequently use with no ill intentions? Maybe. But in a world where we are starting to recognize how bullying scars a child for life (or worse) and unprovoked shootings appear to be rising, maybe it’s time we took violence out of the marketing vernacular.

An IABC colleague once pondered different ways say awesome. Maybe it’s time to take this further and seek alternatives to “the killer approach.” What about scratching the surface with….

  • the Ultimate, Ideal, Exemplary or Definitive or ….versus the killer app, collection or strategy?
  • Opportunities, References, Exposure points or …. versus earned media hits?
  • Extreme, Lifelong, Enduring, Resolute or …. versus die-hard fans?
  • Insight hub, Pulse Room, Information Centre or …. versus war room?

What alternatives can you suggest? Where else can we address violence in marketing lingo?

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2 thoughts on “Should Curbing Violence Start with Words?

  1. Good points, Leslie. I think it all starts with the military-style structure of traditional business, combined with the guys’ love of sports metaphors. In short, too much testosterone talking. Once only nice women run the world, the problem will stop. Trouble is nice women aren’t competitive enough to go after running the world. But we can at least try to avoid violent language. Peace be with you.

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    1. Thanks Barb. Good point on the military-style structure but times change. I’m not suggesting we eliminate drive and competition but maybe there are some alternatives that can be as effective. In a consultation session this week, “fiercely independent” came up as an alternate to kick-ass, so maybe….

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