Culture clash

Yoghurt, yoghurt, yoghurt. For the past three weeks or so, my every spare minute has been oozing with yoghurt. Eww. Not literally, thank goodness. I’ve been writing a category report on yoghurt and pot desserts.

This involved talking to around 35 press officers, one for each of the different brands and one for each of the supermarkets. The press officers for the brands are superb, almost to a (wo)man. Pleasant to deal with, quick to respond and totally on the ball.

Oh, but the language. The language of press releases, of the internal workings of brand identity, of fmcg. It is a terror.

I work in my kitchen, so I read these things with an oven nearby. A gas oven, temptingly near to my head. Do you know how dangerous that is?

The point of a press release – or, indeed, any information given to the press – is to deliver information to journalists, who in turn deliver it to their readers. In this case, the feature was for The Grocer magazine, so the readers are suppliers, retailers, wholesalers, farmers and the occasional member of the public with an unusual taste in recreational reading. Above all, they’re people, not robots. Therefore, there is no reason to talk to them of “eating occasions” when you could say “meals and snacks”.

However, very few press releases are actually written with the reader in mind. Instead, it’s all about the company and what they want to shout about – in their strange private dialect. But if you write your press releases in simple, direct, meaningful words, you stand a much better chance of getting your message across.

So I’m going to be radical and take some real phrases that were sent to me and put them in nice, simple, human English. I know, I know. Try not to get too excited.

  • “Snacking is one of the key occasions for the Low Fat yogurt consumer”
    This just makes me think of David Attenborough (“Bamboo is one of the key food sources for the mountain gorilla”) – it’s an odd construction to use. How about “consumers most often eat low-fat yoghurt as a snack”? If that’s true, of course. Which we don’t know, because the word “key” doesn’t actually mean anything.
  • “Greek yoghurt sits on a continuum between yoghurts and desserts”
    This is crazy talk. Try “Greek yoghurt sits somewhere between yoghurts and desserts”, if you must. Or say what you mean: “Being thicker and more luxurious, Greek yoghurt can also be used for desserts.”
  • “Yoghurt retains a health halo”
    No it doesn’t. “People see yoghurt as a healthy food.”
  • “It is an eye attractive on shelf product”
    Okay, I know what you mean. But “it looks good on the shelf” or “it’s an attractive product”, would be better.
  • “It is about becoming more treaty through flavour choices and style”
    Look, I know the linguists say we’re not meant to scream “this is not a word”, but, sorry, this is not a word (except as a noun, where obviously it is a word). Perhaps “to make the yoghurts more attractive as treats, we’ve introduced more flavours and updated our packaging”?
  • Pleasure remains a key need-state in food”
    This means “people still like food that tastes nice”. You wouldn’t write that, because it’s stupid. So don’t write this, because it’s stupid.
  • “there will be a new TV campaign heroing on great taste”
    Was “focusing” not good enough?
  • “This is an iconic brand with strong taste credentials”
    I’ll refrain from going off on a rant about icons on this occasion. What this means is “it’s a well known brand and the product tastes good”. And then, I’d question whether either of those things are actually worth mentioning anyway.
  • “This is set to expand the ambient desserts category through the snacking occasion”
    This means “our new product is perfect for snacking, and this will increase sales of ambient desserts” (so stock up, all you supermarket buyers).
  • “this will catapult the plant-based eating trend firmly into the mainstream”
    This isn’t quite as silly as it sounds, but the fact that it sounds silly makes it silly. The company makes soya products, but they realise that soya itself doesn’t sound appetising. So they’re trying out “plant-based”, because everyone knows that plants are tasty and healthy, right? Right. And that’s why we already eat them, in the shape of fruit and vegetables. Firmly in the mainstream. No catapulting needed.

As I say, the press officers I dealt with were by and large incredibly professional and efficient. What I’m complaining about here is not them, but the kind of language that has become commonplace in fmcg. Commonplace, you say? Then what’s wrong? What’s wrong is that it’s only commonplace within the industry – the reader has a right to expect direct, no-nonsense language.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Take this from Danone. “You’ve been hit by some smooth caramel.” (Dananana nana na na nana na na) – that’s just great.

And there was my friend telling me what she and her husband got up to with a pot of yoghurt while on holiday in Greece. That too. In fact, I think the two of them may have damn well expanded the yoghurt usage occasion further, what with pleasure being their key need state and all. (They’ll be eating plants next.) I’d like to dedicate the photo above to them. Treaty!

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