13 worst buzzwords and phrases of 2020—the pandemic edition
In these unprecedented times, we humans are all in this together. And the pandemic has given marketers a new purpose, which is to turn perfectly respectable everyday words and phrases into confusing, meaningless or exploitative cliches. And so, among the many other terrors of 2020, the torture of English language took new directions. Here are some examples.
It once went without saying that humans were what marketers were after. No more. People were saying “human” over and over at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing virtual conference in October. In fairness, there’s actually a respectable reason for using the word as an alternative to “consumers” or “customers” or other terms that objectify people in purely transactional terms. But marketers risk getting labeled themselves as really weird if they keep talking about marketing to humans.
Clearly George Costanza was decades ahead of his time when he invented “The Human Fund” on "Seinfeld" in 1997, in the episode better known for his father inventing Festivus. Of course, no one is better at inventing ridiculous stuff than marketers, and for that, friends, a Festivus donation in your name has been made.
B2H and B4H
Now that we’re all about humans, these acronyms can replace B2C and presumably B2B. But it’s not just about marketing. It’s about businesses being for humans, because marketing is really just a multi-trillion-dollar philanthropic endeavor. So we need B4H. And since businesses are made up of humans, maybe we really just need one acronym—H4H.
This adjective showed up in countless ads and press releases this spring and summer. It was useful for everyday conversations, too, such as: “In these unprecedented times, I’m going for a walk.” Yet, sadly, these times aren’t entirely unprecedented. There’s the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. The Black Death. Etc.
It’s not really new (see "unprecedented" above), and it’s also not normal. Seems like only yesterday we got out of the old new normal.
From retail to healthcare, marketers called out front-line workers as heroes in pandemic ads, banners and signs. It would have seemed more sincere had the copy read: “We’re boosting our heroes’ pay 50% by cutting senior executive salaries and bonuses, because why should they make so much more than the front-line workers just for sitting home on Zoom meetings?”
Thousands of tweets, often presidential, get slapped with this label daily. This includes suggestions that the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez somehow was part of a plot to make voting machines flip Trump votes for Biden, even though Chavez has been dead since 2013 and hand recounts showed no computerized vote flipping. Maybe it’s time to scrap “disputed” for stronger adjectives like “delusional” or “demonstrably false” or “ridiculous.”
A term used largely by organizations that would like to be but aren’t.
The media industry’s jargon for differentiating the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu from good ole’ ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News makes no literal sense, and this is the best example. In what way is a subscription video service “over-the-top?” And what’s it over the top of? Netflix often flows through the same cables as Comcast. And isn’t a broadcast TV signal literally “over-the-top” of a buried cable?
Yet broadcast is “linear,” whatever that means. So is cable. Unless the cable moves something over-the-top.
Isn’t all TV “connected” somehow? Here’s a vote for SVOD (subscription video on demand) and AVOD (advertising-supported video on demand), which, while just as clunky, are at least descriptive and make sense.
This is the future spawned by Google’s announcement last January that it will end third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome browser by 2022. It conjures images of the Cookie Monster getting laid off from "Sesame Street" and led away clutching his last box of Oreos. Or, worse, an Elmo-less future. But, in reality, the industry will find other ways to track people. Be real.
And last, but definitely not least ...
Hopefully, one day soon, this word will conjure up only thoughts of “Friends” or a dance class. Right now, it's the word we most want to pivot away from.
For more things we've had enough of, take a look at "11 trends we’re tired of as 2020 comes to an end."