Spare a thought for Jeff Bezos. No, seriously.
The world’s richest man and his wife have just announced on Twitter that they are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. And while it’s still early days, the Bezos post will be hard to beat as a contender for worst corporate-speak of 2019.
Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie Bezos in happier times.
In the statement, the man who founded and has made billions from Amazon and wife MacKenzie said they had agreed to divorce after a long period of “loving exploration” but will “continue our shared lives” as “cherished friends”.
Now, talking about breaking up has never been easy and especially if you are in the public eye, but when did we invent this type of language to tell people love is well, dead? Oh, wait, that would have been Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow when they announced back in 2014 that they were “consciously uncoupling”.
The Bezos announcement, which assumingly came from the heart rather than from one of Amazon’s army of spin doctors, highlights just how fast bad corporate-speak (is there any other type?), has conquered everyday language.
There are good reasons for the occasional lapse into anodyne language, of course. We live in a time when every single word we utter can be spread electronically across the globe in seconds, to be scrutinised in often ridiculous detail, attacked, praised and ridiculed, often by people who have no clue.
Politicians and senior business leaders, for example, have to be even more careful of what they say – and how. Using the wrong word, outdated terminology or even a minor slip-up can wreck careers, upset regulators, and result in the collapse of your company’s share price, as well as its reputation, that most valuable but intangible of all corporate assets.
To be fair, corporate-speak is not new. The former executive chairman of the US coffee chain Starbucks, Howard Schultz, kept journalists humming with silly language for over a decade, including his comment a couple of years back that Starbucks was now delivering “an immersive, ultra-premium, coffee-forward experience”.
More recently, when Uber came under attack over the training of its drivers and other related serious issues, the company’s response was to talk about how it had “underinvested in the driver experience”. No wonder the media coverage ended in what Uber described, without a hint of irony, as “a reputational deficit”.
Then there was a former head boss at Cisco who sent a note to all staff which ended with the line, “We’ll wake the world up and move the planet a little closer to the future.”
Lest you think this is a problem only for foreign CEOs, the head of one of our major mining companies recently congratulated staff for “stepping up to unlock low-cost latent capacity and achieve strong productivity gains across our tier one assets”.
A lot of bad corporate-speak is about trying to massage potentially negative news.
Yahoo7 copped some (justified) criticism when it announced early last year that it was “restructuring” its business to “harness the power” of a new technology platform.
What the company was trying to say (or trying to avoid saying), was that times were tough in media and the online publisher – like many of its competitors – needed to cut costs the old fashioned way: by replacing humans with even more technology.
But you had to plough through several very upbeat sentences (''A market-leading destination!'', ''Premium consumer brands!''), before confirmation this would mean a “planned reduction in locally-produced bespoke platforms, and potentially across the associated teams”.
In October, when Etihad Airways announced it would hand over the operation of its bespoke Sydney and Melbourne airport lounges to an independent chain, the airline’s vice-president for guest experience (that’s the title), told the media that the company was “evolving the lounge experience”. Guests would in fact enjoy, “a new and enhanced airport experience”.
It’s slightly depressing. Despite the best efforts of journalists such as Lucy Kellaway at The Financial Times in London, who made a career out of calling out what she described as “corporate bull”, it seems corporate-speak is getting worse.
And it’s now spreading all the way to divorce announcements.
Luis M Garcia is a former journalist and political adviser. He is the senior director at Cannings Strategic Communications.
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