A major news item reminded me this week of how careful we as internet marketers need to be with our use of language, particularly our choice of words.
This was the repeated use of the word “wildfire“ in radio and TV news bulletins to describe the terrible fires ravaging parts of Texas and my sympathies go to all those who have lost their homes and property.
My gripe, and forgive me if I am being a pedantic language purist here, is that the word “wild” is totally superfluous. Surely all fires other than those contained in a fireplace, fire pit or other controlled area are, by definition, “wild”
The word wild does not add anything to our understanding of the nature or severity of the fire except to indicate that it is probably out of control.
Prefacing fire with “bush, grass, forest” as used to be the case gives us, the listeners, a much better idea of the nature of the fire. I had always assumed from what I had read about Texas, that most of that state was grassland. Having experienced grass and bush fires in Africa, I know how fast they can spread and how frightening they can be.
But fires in large areas of grassland or low bush are easier to control by back burning, ploughing or mowing fire-breaks than forest fires. My incorrect assumption about the vegetation in Texas made me wonder how thousands of houses could have been destroyed in a short period by a grass fire.
It was only after a few days that I watched TV coverage of the fire and realised that the areas affected by the fire do in fact have large tree covered areas, which provide the fires with fuel.
I am sure that I am not the only person who has become so disenchanted with TV that I rarely watch it. If the fires had correctly been described as forest, bush or grass, then I and probably many other radio listeners would have been better informed.
The word “wildfire” seems to have been dreamed up for a few movies some years ago and then adopted my the media, perhaps because it sounds more sensational than a plain old forest or bush fire.
A word like wildfire irritating one pernicekty baby boomer is not a big issue and I recognise that language must evolve, that new words like “texting” come into daily use to accommodate advances in technology. And if using “wildfire” makes breathless news announcers happy, let them have their drama.
The problem is that should a marketer use the word “wildfire” in an advertising message directed at me, it is going to be an immediate and insurmountable negative trigger. It is going to offend my values. I am not going to read or listen to the rest of the message.
So while there are words that act as triggers for people to take action, there are also words that have the opposite effect. How many people does “wildfire” irritate, probably only a few of us older language purists, but there are many others that do paint negative pictures for larger numbers of prospective customers.
Words with religious and political connotations need particular care, anything that hints at socialism raises my antenna, just as my condemnation of the lack of action by the police against the rioters in England (and Canada) probably alienates many with a more pacifist and liberal nature.
What does this mean for marketers?
- A reminder of how careful we need to be with the words we use.
- The need to know our audience’s triggers, likes and dislikes.
- The importance of testing and measuring our marketing messages.
Don’t let inadvertent “wildfires” burn up your marketing.
Wishing you success in all your endeavours.