words writing on wall graffiti
PHOTO: Jelleke Vanooteghem

A new opening in our marketing and communications department for a traditional old-school communicator who can write endless quantities of condescending, deflecting, happy-clappy mumbo jumbo, stating-the-bleeding-obvious content. Ideal candidate should be able to see every crisis as an opportunity to waffle endlessly.

As Brexit looms like a plague of starving locusts, Tom Enders, the chief executive of Airbus, stated that a no deal would be hugely damaging to Airbus employment in the UK. "Please don't listen to the Brexiteers' madness which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here,” Enders stated. “They are wrong."

And how did a UK government spokesperson respond? By stating the following: "The UK is a world leader in aerospace. We are the home of the jet engine, the wing factory of the world and are world-renowned for our skills and capabilities in the most technically-advanced parts of aerospace manufacturing.”

Hello? Well, at least they didn’t respond like this. “The United Kingdom, made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is an island nation in northwestern Europe. England — birthplace of Shakespeare and The Beatles — is home to the capital, London, a globally influential centre of finance and culture.”

Faced with one of its greatest emergencies in modern times, responding to the CEO of one of the world’s largest airplane manufactures, the UK government feels the need to explain to Enders that, “The UK is a world leader in aerospace.” Chances are he knows that.

Would that such gibberish was a rarity. Far from it. Large organizations, in particular, tend to have an endless capacity to be vain, petulant, arrogant and out-of-touch. Communications and marketing departments behave like the tailors in The Emperor’s New Clothes, as they outdo themselves to come up with more images of eternally smiling super-happy content.

Either organizations are spewing out fantasy worlds for their products, services and policies, or else they’re droning on ad nauseam with endless quantities of utterly useless content that nobody is interested in reading. Unnecessary context. Verbose explanations of how this thing or that policy was developed. A myriad swamp of legalese to cover themselves just in case someone might actually understand what they are talking about. A relentless covering of every possible scenario that is pumped up on the website like slurry spread on a spring field. Only this slurry doesn’t make the grass grow: it smothers and kills the useful content.

Even the stuff that people do need is often written in a way that is designed to confuse and obfuscate rather than illuminate. Because if you say something clearly, then that means you must master your subject and be accountable. Better to muddy things up. Then you can claim that what you actually meant was .…

Stop! There is a huge cost for all this propaganda hogwash. A 2018 study found that only 9 percent of British people believe that their government will “do the right thing.” Nine percent. The huge cynicism people feel towards government and many other organizations is at least partly down to feudal and condescending way they are communicated with.

We need a massive root-and-branch overhaul of how content is created. Content must be measured based on its use and usefulness. We must measure much more effectively how people find, use and understand content.