Where to from here?

It’s not infrequently that our industry is called to account for its role in the degradation of society. When you consider the significant share of voice that advertising content has in the overall number of messages that an average person receives each day, there’s no doubting the sway we have. But are we, as advertisers and marketers, responsible for an increase in childhood obesity? Have our actions led to an increase in unhealthy self-images in teenage females? Have we perpetuated the notion that life is all about the material things?

These have all been – and I suspect will continue to be – the subject of ongoing debate. We seemed doomed to discuss whether or not we advertisers create or simply reflect changes in society’s standards ad infinitum (pun intended). But today, there’s something far simpler that I want to focus on. Something of less significance than any of the above issues, something that is probably only of concern to pedants like myself: the role of advertising in the degradation of the English language.

We live in a world increasingly shaped by people’s use of online programs such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter et al. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m OK with abbreviations and ‘netspeak’ as a legitimate form of communicating online (no, rli). But it seems that the ability to spell, let alone express oneself eloquently, is of little importance on the interweb. Take most users’ apparent difficulty in establishing which you’re/your should be used in any given context, for instance. Ask most of them and they’d probably tell you that a ‘homophone’ is a new Nokia designed for the gay market.

So when there’s enough subtle undermining of our language taking place anyway, why are we advertisers adding to it? I’m not just talking about the desperate grab for resonance with the youth market by using ‘cya l8r’, ‘c u there’ or whatever other abbreviations may make them sound, like, you know, with it… man. No, it goes much deeper than that.

Advertising is now beginning to rob the true meaning from words, to the extent where we’re going to have to create new words when we want something to convey the original meaning. For this little example, I’m going to point the finger straight at BMW, who recently launched their X6 four-wheel-drive as the world’s first ‘Sports Activity Coupe’. The problem with this – aside from the fact that the ‘carve out a niche and declare yourself the leader’ tactic is about as tired and well worn as the boxers I’m sitting in – is that their so-called ‘coupe’ actually has four doors. The word coupe is derived from the French word ‘couper’, which means ‘to cut’, traditionally referring to cars which have been ‘cut down’ to two doors. Now, BMW’s agency is offering us a range of four-door coupes. What a bunch of oxymorons.

Although, maybe I’m singling them out unfairly. Truth be told, Mercedes started it when they launched the CLS in a similar fashion a few years back. And hey, with these two heavyweights kicking it off, one can hardly blame poor VW for simply following suit recently when it began promoting its new Passat CC. So we now have three companies offering us a ‘four door coupe’. No doubt the Japanese makers will jump on the ‘coupe that isn’t’ brandwagon soon too.

Do you see what’s happening? Soon, we’re going to have to find a new word when we want to tell people that we’re selling two-door cars – coupe just won’t cut it any more.

This is just one example of how we’re influencing language through advertising (incidentally, this type of behaviour also reinforces the notion that we are all wankers). And then there’s those who believe that copywriting has its own set of laws. Beginning sentences with ‘and’. Or not having a proper sentence structure.

If the majority of all the written expression that younger people see is increasingly generated either by ignorant Web 2.0 users or our good (or not-so-good) selves, where will the English language be in another thirty years?

Yes, the advertising industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to degrading the English language, and it’s only going to get worse. Goodness me, where will it end.