That’s so cliché

From Kirsty Mawer

I’ve imagined that one day, when I am famous, a really well-known interviewer is going to ask me all sorts of random and quirky questions to, you know, get to know me. One of those questions they (hopefully) will ask is; “What is one thing that makes you mad?” And by “mad” they mean irate, not insane – we’re beyond that.

Now I have pondered my response in a couple of different scenarios and they have varied from “Bad drivers” to “Queue jumpers” to “Banks and insurance companies” right through to “Bureaucracy” and “Animal cruelty” which have probably been related to an incident I was affected by at the time.

All of the answers I mentioned really do make me mad but there is one thing I am commonly assaulted with on an almost-daily basis that is making me both irate and insane –clichés.

For the most eloquent definition of anything, I turn to the Oxford English Reference Dictionary as they have some practice in spelling things out. According to this edition (revised second edition 2002), the term cliché means a hackneyed phrase or opinion. Nice one Oxford, that was a little too eloquent and, admittedly, I had to look this one up too: “Hackneyed” means “Made commonplace or trite by overuse”.

Bam! That was what I was looking for – something that is overused and trite, and by jingo, I don’t know if you have noticed, but I certainly have – we are surrounded by these phrases in various media. It has to stop people. We have to start being more creative.

Turn on your nightly news broadcast (or even your breakfast shows) and the presenters will slip them in. Even they groan at the mention of their puns. Reading through different types of magazines and I will attest that somewhere a cliché will be mentioned. More than likely in advertising, if not in the editorial. Newspapers? Rife with catchy little terms, writers thinking they are clever. It’s not clever, it’s lazy, predictable and boring.

In my personal experience, I have found that clichés are used in an attempt to make the subject relatable to an audience. They can also be used because it is easy and it seems to “fit” with the story being told, because the author was trying to be time efficient or they lack experience and vocabulary. And you know why I say “in my experience”? Because I have done it. In Facebook posts, in writing pieces and even in my journal, I have been lazy enough to use clichés and every time I have cringed and berated myself for doing so. And then I vowed to make a concerted effort not to do it again.

And the reason why I am so opposed to these “trite and overused phrases” is because it’s dumbing your audience down, assuming they don’t get deeper intellectual prose. For the sake of a few longer words and a bit more thought, it is worth the time and effort to not be so predictable and give people something to think about. We don’t have to spell it out all the time and make it so flipping obvious.

My advice for avoiding clichés begins with speaking up and letting authors, writers and journos know that it isn’t ok to continue the lazy path (using constructive criticism – not abusing them on social media, that’s just wrong) and that you appreciate well-crafted, considered text.

Next, I would suggest expanding your reading and viewing choices, purchasing the slightly more expensive southern paper every now and then to see that there are some genuinely creative writers who can tell a story and make it interesting or changing channels to see a different aspect of a story being reported.

Now to the main point – how to avoid clichés in business. If you have a copywriter (on staff or hired consultant), stipulate that under no circumstances should they resort to clichés. Scrap them all together, encourage them to use their creativity and present some new and unique concepts and ideas.

If you pride yourself on writing your own content, then invest some time in professional development to work on your creativity. Challenge yourself to look at new ways of writing and ask someone to proofread your text and make suggestions. Start putting your own voice into each piece and STOP trying to be corporate. Leave that to the corporations. Let them hire their boring, “well trained” marketing people to write their crappy copy.

And actually look for awesome examples of non-clichéd advertising! I have to give kudos to Stellarossa for their latest advertising campaign “Hensway Wednesday” – that was so clever I have tried several times to re-tell the joke, albeit unsuccessfully. Still have no idea what I am rambling on about? Best you keep your ear out and see if you agree.