making sense of “marketing-speak”

posted by

Bill Hogan
senior copywriter / vision

a new generation of consumers has emerged from childhood slumber. Gen Z has arrived. word is they’re savvier, even more discerning than their millennial predecessors. and rumor has it they’re impervious, if not utterly deterred by marketing-speak. because of this, a swarming confluence of panic, urgency and paranoia has reverberated throughout the agency world. how do we connect with these fledgling consumers?

indeed, we’re in the midst of The Great Marketing-speak Scare. but what exactly defines marketing-speak for the Gen Z audience? it’s so loosely defined and subjectively interpreted you could argue almost any style of branded content uses marketing-speak in one way or another.

as a copywriter, I’ve ruminated over the subject, worrying the slightest turn of phrase could be construed as the dreaded m-word. I’ve experimented with brick-to-forehead wording and plainspoken tone so deprived of personality, it’s read as if it were seeping from the mouth of someone who can only be described as milquetoast. but hey, at least it sounded like it was coming from a person, not a company or corporation. and that’s precisely the direction you’re given: write like a human. I wasn’t aware there was any other way to write.

this is nothing new. millennials have been courted by conversational tones for years now. the difference, however, is that Gen Z has an eye for hackneyed phraseology and over-romanticized messaging, and no patience for either. if it doesn’t feel real, they dismiss it and move on. if it reads as if it were plucked out of a Pat Conroy novel, they move on to the next piece of content. the latter pains me to my core because most copywriters treat our jobs as platforms for personal creative expression. but then I think back to the time I was told, “you’re not an artist, you’re a problem-solver”. I’m not a novelist either.

none of this is as scary as its being made to seem. Gen Z has simply identified the copycat nature among brands. in addition, they don’t want to have to dredge through our prose, no matter how eloquent they may be. copywriters everywhere can let out a collective sigh of relief because Gen Z still embraces good copywriting. they just have a preference for more direct, casual writing. they look for language that feels true to the brand and different from others. no B.S. nothing overwrought. think plainspoken tone with a creative wrinkle or two. there’s still desire for a smooth play on words, a clever wink and nod, and a little alliteration here and there. they still want branded content to be copywritten.

perhaps, The Great Marketing-speak Scare isn’t a scare at all. no, it’s an awakening. the way this fundamentally tech-savvy generation behaves—how they learn, discover and socialize with brands—offers us boundless opportunities for meaningful connection. their ubiquitous presence (and impatience) underpins the importance of pithy, distinct and consistent communication throughout countless touchpoints.

with their critical eyes ceaselessly scanning (and scrolling), Gen Z demands more from us. no more reaching for low-hanging fruit. no more recycling words and phrases. they’re pushing us to speak on behalf of a brand as if it’s an individual talking to a group of individuals, and to be able to do it all day, every day. they’re challenging us to be the brand or writer that establishes that next great buzzword or disruptive verbiage to echo in their nascent consumer souls, and to create what others mimic.

this is all to say, thank you Gen Z. thank you for forcing us to keep honing our craft. we’ll all be better because of you.