BIK Terminology—

Solving the terminology puzzle, one posting at a time

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    Barbara Inge Karsch - Terminology Consulting and Training

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How is Superman related to a lawn mower?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 3, 2011

Terminology is for translators! Why should I, as a fill-in-the-blank expert, worry about terminology? Oh, but we are in marketing, not in translation! Excuses, excuses. When you wait until your terminology hits the translator, it is too late. Besides the fact, it is not true that folks in the content supply chain don’t deal with terminology management. Most of them just don’t deal with it consciously. Some do it very effectively.

But there are links in that chain who very, very actively deal with terminology. Only three out of 23 car sales people I interviewed at the Canadian International AutoShow in February, for instance, were stumped by the question “what is terminology”. All others had very good definitions, explanations and synonyms handy. What’s more, almost all of them pointed out the effect of terminology choices on their customers. They knew muuuch more about terminology issues than most people in the content supply chain are willing to admit. Some of them were just not that happy with the terminology that came down the pipeline to them!

Terminology is very deliberately used by marketing and branding departments to achieve brand recognition and ultimately to sell. Here is a commercial that uses presumed synonymy to introduce essential concepts of a product and reach potential buyers on different levels:

  • It brings in terms from other subject areas to introduce what could be an unknown technical term: “clipper shavers” vs. “twin blades.”
  • It introduces what must be an impressive technical concept represented by a registered trademark in a non-threatening way: “veggie mow” vs. “Versamow©.”
  • And finally, it uses a designator, which the target audience is emotionally attached to, although it represents a completely unrelated concept: “Kryptonite*” vs. “NeXite©.”

Using presumed synonymy as a technique allows the marketing experts to have a likeable bungler explain what is implied to be a technically excellent product, all with the tag line “Hard to describe, easy to use.”

It is not as over-the-top as the Turbo Encabulator that has my students rolling on the floor even at 9 PM. But it shows how clued into terminology methods some branding folks really are. So, if you are part of the content supply chain and think you have nothing to do with terminology principles and methods, think again. Your competition is using them while you are still denying they exist.

Terminology in a commercial

*For more on Kryptonite see the Wikipedia entry. What I find interesting is that the commercial refers to it, even though it stands for a weakness. The makers of the commercial rely on the association to Superman being so strong, powerful and positive that the target audience completely forgets what Kryptonite stands for.

BIK: Thanks to Ben W. for pointing out a much more logical explanation, which eluded me in the final minutes of writing the above: The direct association with Kryptonite is that with a powerful material. And who wouldn’t want something that is stronger even than Superman.

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2 Responses to “How is Superman related to a lawn mower?”

  1. Frank M. said

    I love that word: “content supply chain” – a machine-like term for human creative processes. All a question of perspective, I suppose. – Otherwise brilliant thought. Tell us more about those salesmen and women…

    • Servus Frank! You are totally right about the term “content supply chain,” it puts the manufacturing spin on a creative process. But that is why I also think it is helpful: those of us working on content know that we all need to work together and that it is far from being a simple chain. But those who need to still understand the importance of terminology, the ROI, etc. tend to understand production terminology much better.
      I haven’t talked a lot about that trip to the AutoShow, have I? Let me make a note and think how I can bring in more of the results from that research project.
      Beste Grüße nach Berlin!

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