Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Business English - Talking about Sports & Advertising

Well here we are in December and the economic picture hasn't gotten any prettier! Time to talk more about the language of spending, saving, and cost cutting. If there is one thing big American companies love to spend money on, it's buying advertisements in the Super Bowl - the big football game that takes place every winter (this year the 43rd annual game will take place on February 1). Why do companies love to advertise during the Super Bowl game? Because millions of people watch the game and because the commercials end up getting tons of analysis and attention -- shown afterwards by other TV shows, posted on the Internet, and discussed in newspapers. Also, companies advertise on the Super Bowl to show that they're in a good financial position (they can afford to spend big money on the ad).

But this year -- the year of our great millenial Depression -- demand for Super Bowl ads is lower than usual. Surprise! Here's the start of a November 11 article in the Wall Street Journal, with the business expressions we'll focus on highlighed in blue:

With advertising rates for the Super Bowl running as high as $3 million for a 30-second spot, some marketers are wondering whether during these tough economic times they can afford the big game.

FedEx, a loyal Super Bowl advertiser, still hasn't decided if it will buy in. FedEx is concerned that shelling out big bucks -- at a time when it's "asking employees to do more with less" -- will look "wrong," says a person close to the company.

"Companies have to be mindful that jumping into the game can open them up to criticism," this person says.

The Memphis, Tenn., package-delivery giant is holding out to see if it can get a bargain.

FedEx's hesitation is raising eyebrows on Madison Avenue because it has advertised in 12 of the past National Football League championship games.


30-second spot - a 30-second commercial. Typically commercials are either 15 seconds or 30 seconds in length.

shelling out - to pay a lot of money for something; to pay more than you would like for something

big bucks - a lot of money

(to) hold out for - to wait to buy something to see if one can get a lower price

raising eyebrows - creating alarm; stirring fears, worry or suspicion

Madison Avenue - where New York's major advertising agencies are located - so "Madison Avenue" is now often used to refer to the advertising industry in general

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Business English in Today's Advertising World

If there's one thing English-speaking market folks love to talk about, it's cutting through the clutter. What exactly does this mean? It means: finding a way to get one's message through to the customer. The "clutter" refers to all the other stuff out there that gets in your way. In other words, just as you're trying to reach your potential customer with YOUR very important message, there are thousands of others out there also trying to talk to your customer. Their advertisments and their marketing messages are creating this "clutter."

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled "Notice me: Cutting Through the Marketing Clutter." Let's take a look at the first paragraph, with a focus on the business expressions in blue:

Even as customers are constantly bombarded with advertising messages, they are getting progressively better at tuning out the endless stream of come-ons. Companies then typically up the ante and try to out-shout their competitors to draw attention. All of which just leads to more shouting, and everybody is drowned out.


bombarded - like many business English terms, this one comes to us from the military. In war, bombarding a town means destroying it by firing heavily on it. Here, the expression means firing lots of advertisements at customers (advertising heavily to them). Just as today's consumer is bombarded by advertisements, he or she is also bombarded by SPAM, or unwanted emails.

to tune out - to ignore; to stop listening to

come-ons - offers, often misleading ones (the kind that promise you a free trip somewhere sunny or a free iPOD for doing just one little thing...).

up the ante - to do more than before; to take further action to try to achieve something; to do more than one's competitors

out-shout - to get your message across by advertising more aggressively - literally, to speak louder than one's competitors. This is a fun expression because it rhymes.

drowned out - not being heard because too many people (or companies) are talking at the same time. This is what happens when everybody is yelling at the same time - or when all companies are barking at you that you must buy their product. At some point, all the messages just become a lot of noise!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial Crisis - A Perfect Learning Opportunity!

Do you know the expression "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" It means that when things are going badly, you should try to find the positive. Look for opportunity even when things seem hopeless.

Here, in the height of the financial crisis - when it doesn't seem to be possible that things can get any worse (famous last words!) - we have the opportunity to learn some new vocabulary and improve our English. The vocabulary of crisis! Join me as I squeeze some lemons at the end of a very rough week and explore a few important English expressions.

From an article in the Wall Street Journal today:

Wild Day Caps Worst Week Ever for Stocks: Dow Swings 1019 Points in Index's Most-Volatile Session; Despite 'Fire-Sale Prices,' Buyers Mostly Stand Back

The Dow Jones Industrial Average capped the worst week in its 112-year history with its most volatile day ever, as hopes for a major international bank-rescue plan were overwhelmed at day's end by another wave of selling.

Some investors who normally would be jumping to buy beaten-down stocks after a 22% decline over eight trading days said the relentless declines have left them shell-shocked and unwilling to take new risks. Some spent the day trying to protect themselves from further declines.


Okay, time to make that lemonade and learn some vocabulary:


fire-sale prices: cheap prices; low prices; prices much lower than normal. This American expression originally meant goods actually damaged by a fire. They were sold at a reduced price due to the fire damage.

(to) stand back: to wait; to not take any action.

volatile: when talking about stocks, this means that they tend to go up and down a lot. Over the past week, the stock market has been very volatile!

beaten-down: lowered; depressed - beaten-down stocks are ones that have been sold heavily. Their prices are much lower than before. People with beaten-down stocks are likely to also feel beaten-down (as in sad or depressed).

shell-shocked: confused; stunned; suffering from an unexpected difficulty. This term comes to us from World War 1. Many soldiers suffered great trauma - then called "shell shock" and now referred to more commonly as "post-traumatic stress." People who watch their retirement plans shrink up or their life savings go down are most understandably shell-shocked!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Let’s Talk Luxury Goods

Despite the global economic slowdown, some people are still spending big bucks on high-priced products. Let’s look at this extract from he Wall Street Journal*, with words and phrases to explore in blue:

Big-spending luxury consumers have continued to splurge on pricey handbags and jewelry, even as the global financial crisis has forced them to cut back in other areas.

luxury consumers - people who buy luxury goods. Luxury goods are expensive products, such as handbags, watches, scarves with fancy brand names like Herm├ęs and Cartier. Luxury goods are sometimes said to "command a premium," which means you can charge extra for them.

(to) splurge – to buy something you don’t really need; to spend a lot of money on something as a treat for oneself.

Despite the global recession, many consumers can’t resist the urge to splurge. And why not? Somebody’s got to keep the world economy moving!

pricey – expensive (sometimes too expensive).

Cartier watches are very pricey, but anybody who gets close enough to your wrist to see the brand name will know immediately that you’re wearing an expensive watch!

(to) cut back– to reduce; to stop spending so much.

With gas prices so high, many people have cut back on car travel.

*From the WSJ article “Handbag, Jewelry Sales Help Lift LVMH's Profit,” published July 30

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Expressions we use for hiring & firing

Firing people is no fun at all. Hiring is somewhat more uplifting. In the American workplace, there are lots of colorful terms for firing and many somewhat less colorful terms for hiring people. There are also several terms to describe people leaving a company under less-than-clear circumstances -- in other words, not quite fired but perhaps not quite leaving voluntarily either.

Compliments of today's Wall Street Journal, we have this bit of news (terms we'll explore are highlighted in blue):

The two matchmakers behind the troubled trans-Atlantic marriage that created Alcatel-Lucent are stepping down to pave the way for a management overhaul at one of the world's biggest telecommunications-equipment providers. Patricia Russo, the company's American chief executive, and Serge Tchuruk, its French chairman, said they will resign by the end of the year, in an bid to relieve the cultural tensions that have roiled the high-profile alliance.

(to) step down - to leave a senior position (often the top position) in a company. This verb does not let us know if the person was fired or is leaving of their own choice. All we know for sure is that their office will be empty soon. A similar expression is "to move on." Less senior people in the company can use this expression (example: After a few years as marketing manager with Cobox Corporation, Jennifer has decided to move on.")

If they are being fired, we can use these expressions:
- to get the ax
- to be given the boot
- to be shown the door
- to get canned

And perhaps the hottest expression today: to be ousted. This is usually reserved for top executives. And what a come down it is!

"Ousted Executive Provides a Feminine Face to the McCain Campaign"

Who are they talking about? Carly Fiorina, of course - the ousted former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Note that oust comes in many forms:

verb - to oust (The CEO was ousted after another quarter of disappointing earnings).
noun - ouster (Carly Fiorina's ouster was driven by HP's board).
adjective - ousted (The ousted CEO has found new success in politics).

Then there is the firing language inspired by the corporate HR department:
- to be downsized
- to take a package (a retirement package, that is)
- to move on to other opportunities

Returing to the fate of our executives from Alcatel-Lucent and our remaining expressions:

(to) pave the way - to prepare for, to take the first steps in. In the above example, we have Patricia and Serge graciously leaving their positions (getting out of the way) for the next phase: new management to be brought in who will hopefully be more successfully. Removing them paves the way for bringing on new management.

management overhaul - oh, things must be pretty bad at Alcatel-Lucent now that we're talking about an "overhaul." Overhaul means to restore or repair something that is in bad condition. This means that many members of the senior management will be replaced. I would say that a management overhaul is even more serious than its sister expression "management shakeup."

Overhaul comes to us from the world of boats (the nautical world). It originally meant to "pull rigging apart for examination" according to the online etymology dictionary. I wonder how much sailing the departing team from Alcatel-Lucent will be doing in their free time?!