Wednesday, January 26, 2005


It’s funny how words work. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is as simple as choosing the right word. Marketing folks know this. You might have the best product since the invention of dirt, but if you give it the wrong name it won’t ever get noticed or be successful. Something called “Glorp” just isn’t going to fly off the shelves, if you know what I mean, unless of course you’re trying to sell to juvenile boys (redundant), in which case it will be a smash hit. Conversely, you might have an average product, but if you give it the right name, folks will be more attracted to it. “Cheer” laundry detergent comes to mind. I mean, who couldn’t use a little cheer in their lives? Why, if you buy “Cheer” you’re getting more than a detergent, you’re getting happiness in a box!

Sometimes things start out with one name and then get switched to another. (CingulaVerizoSprint can’t be more than a few years away, can it?) This happens for a variety of reasons, but mostly to create a new identity for the same old product. A different name allows the consumer to think it’s “new and improved” even if it isn’t. (And if you think about it, it’s impossible for something to be both “new” and “improved” at the same time) Sometimes, this happens with people too.

Mrs. K. used to be the principal of the elementary school my kids attended. She was ditzy and pushy at the same time - a dangerous combination. You always got the feeling that she thought she knew how things should be done better than anyone else, and if you didn’t agree it’s because you just weren’t bright enough to “get it”. As a result, she tended to be a little condescending in her tone and manner. Even the kids picked up on this. By the time the Youngest Aardvark Child “graduated” from the elementary school, Mrs. K. had managed to get her PhD. She insisted that everyone refer to her as “Dr. K.”. Now, I understand being proud of your accomplishments and all, but she wore her degree like a 3 carat diamond on a newly engaged girl. Her title may have changed, but she was still the same ditzy, condescending woman. (Now with Extra Irritating Power!) I probably should avoid the “lipstick on a pig” analogy. (Oops! How did that get in here?)

Anyway, what got me to thinking about this was one of the afternoon talk shows I sometimes tune in on the radio. KLIF 570’s afternoon drive-time personality is a guy by the name of Greg Knapp. He’s an ok guy. He's sometimes given to hyperbole, but that’s the nature of the beast. He’s there to inform and entertain, and while some folks think the former should be predominant, in reality it’s the latter that keeps him on the air. Sometime in the last few months when I’ve been working late (and so have missed his show), he’s changed the name of the show from “The Greg Knapp Show” to “The Greg Knapp Experience”. Same topics, same format, same show, different name. I’m sure the reason for the change was to give his show a little extra hook. Some pop. Some pizzazz. For some reason, this change has had the opposite effect on me. If I tune in, I find myself changing the station as soon as I hear, “Thank you for being part of the Greg Knapp Experience.” Dude, I don’t WANT an experience, ok? You’re not that important. It’s a radio program, not performance art. Being part of the “Experience” makes it sound like I’m a groupie or something. Ewww. Not what I’m looking for in a talk show, thanks anyway. It's a completely emotional response, I know.

It’s funny how changing one little word can have such an impact on how we view things. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s important to understand the impact of how words are used to define the hot-button issues of our times. Like the definition of “marriage” or whether someone is “Pro-Life” or “Anti-Abortion”, or whether someone is an “undocumented worker” or an “illegal alien”. The terminology is important, because we react differently depending on which word is used.

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