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!