Opinion

How passion, purpose and authenticity have become bland, boring and fake

There are as many words as there are stories in SA, so let's go out and find some new ones

23 June 2019 - 00:04 By
The words 'passion' and 'purpose' have been so overused by marketing campaigns that they've lost lost their meaning.
The words 'passion' and 'purpose' have been so overused by marketing campaigns that they've lost lost their meaning.
Image: Ian Schneider on Unsplash

At some point during Advertising 101, someone taught people how to turn pop psychology into fast food.

Ideas that were once layered, suitably complex and inspiring got lobbed into the marketing meat grinder and spat out as shapeless glob that could be moulded into whatever shape elicited the emotional reaction required to pry your wallet open.

Take the word "authenticity", for example. It has been contorted to fit so many different marketing campaigns that when you hear it now, it just sounds like The Big Mac of words. The same can be said of "passion" and "purpose".

In short, once marketers get their hands on a nice word that you could introduce to your parents, it is only a matter of time before they've got that word selling its soul to get you to buy sneakers or something equally "authentic".

Every now and then, however, marketing boffins will put something together that spares words from whatever meaning-sapping horrors their PowerPoint presentations can concoct and just allow them to be their naturally seductive selves.

Everyone enjoys telling you to follow your passion, but the implication all too often seems to be that you have to be passionate about specific things.

For example, follow your passion if you want to be a designer, entertainer or some kind of industrialist. But one would be hard-pressed to find a campaign advocating following one's passion that featured policemen and women or union shop stewards. Those jobs aren't sexy enough.

The same goes for being "authentic" or whatever neologism they've assigned to young African creatives. As anyone who has ever met real people will tell you, true authenticity is not about making a hip caricature of whatever pop culture is having fun with at that point in time.

Accountants can be as authentic as game-changing fashion designers, and domestic workers can be trailblazing mavericks (that's another word with a lot of mileage on it) in the same way that genre-bending film directors are.

The end result of constantly pinning buzz words on whatever marketers think is sexy is that marketing campaigns seldom come across as authentic, purposeful or whatever word they're trying to sell us. They just come off as generic and mass produced.

An old Greek dude posited that fame was the perfume of great deeds, but in the internet era, a lot of marketing folks are being conned by people wearing fake cologne

But now and then, the salespeople of the world manage to bring people together who actually embody the words their brand uses and not just its aesthetics.

It's always fun when that happens but it doesn't happen often enough, and there may be a reason for that - social-media influencers.

An old Greek dude posited that fame was the perfume of great deeds, but in the internet era, a lot of marketing folks are being conned by people wearing fake cologne.

Obviously not all social-media influencers are snake-oil salespeople, but the world is much bigger than them.

There are young women building renewable energy empires with less than 250 Instagram followers and informal street vendors with better sartorial taste than bankers wearing generically expensive Ermenegildo Zegna suits.

There are as many words as there are stories in SA, and the best way to avoid boring everyone by stuffing the same overused terms into the same hackneyed boxes is to go out there and find them.

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