I have worked in marketing and communications for many years. Times such as these, most recently faced with the massacre of ordinary people in Paris just living their lives, remind me of a fundamental reservation I felt when entering this field. Why does marketing language tilt towards militarization and violence? If we believe that language and tone matter, should we not promote a change in the dynamic, and demilitarize marketing?
I came to my current profession by way of studying and then teaching French literature at the university level. That experience made many of the quirks of business language sound odd to my ears, but, over time, I assimilated, and wrote off my discomfort as the naive perspective of inexperience. I concluded it didn’t matter, and that I could ignore how strange it is to consider what we do as “strategy,” to speak about “penetrating” a market, to consider our audiences as “targets,” all straight out of the domain of military planning and tactics.
Yet a violent world calls for deeper reflection, calls for accepting that discomfort, and finally calls for constructing a better view of the world. To repeat, language and tone matter, so after a steady stream of mass murders by lone actors and by coordinated groups, I can no longer let it pass. Not in my own thinking, and I ask my peers to demilitarize their own mindset, too.
- I will no longer call people “targets.” In my marketing and in my work for clients, I am helping them connect with humans. And, along the same lines, I won’t “target” any audiences. I will focus on connection and engagement.
- I will no longer wage “campaigns.” For now, I have no better words than “initiative,” or “effort,” but in this case the less vivid language suits my purposes better.
- I will no longer develop “strategies.” I will craft approaches, plan programs and projects, and then work with my colleagues to carry them.
Seemingly everyone in business speaks this way, so even in stating my commitments, I know I will slip. I will certainly not position myself as a language policeman to correct others who use this militarized language. But maybe, just maybe, it will wield the same subtle influence that I believe words have in connecting with people. And maybe, just maybe, it will demilitarize our world just one little bit.