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How to confuse the media consumer

We’re on a mission at CoComms to modernise, update and eradicate unhelpful expressions used by spokespeople in the media. A couple of weeks ago, it was the ‘we are aware’ cliché that got the cold shoulder. 

Now we’ve spotted another more insidious phrase that’s started to creep into responses delivered by those charged with being interviewed.  President Joe Biden used it on the campaign trail back in July last year, but it’s now appeared in the UK. Boris Johnson formally “unveiled” the slogan at Exeter College promising to ‘build back better’.  Since then the phrase has been appropriated in a range of different scenarios, each more confusing and trite than the last. 

Build Back Better. 

What does it actually mean? Can it be used as a shorthand or has it become a meaningless buzz expression designed to indicate contemporary and forward-looking aspiration? 

It was first used by the United Nations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But according to The Independent, did not catch on in the world of political spin until after the pandemic stuck and lockdowns caused economies around the world to nosedive.  

From our perspective, it’s another example of the dilemma faced by all media spokespeople: the time v content conflict.  It runs like this: ‘I want to say this but I’ve only got time to say that’. By employing the phrase ‘build back better’, the spokesperson is actually trying to say ‘we will be rebuilding our services/facilities/plans in a much more effective and engaging way than we did before’.  But that, of course, takes time. 

Unfortunately the use of the ‘BBB’ phrase – while briefer – offers the consumer ‘homework’.  The expression needs decoding, therefore vital meaning is inevitably lost. The media message should be clear and unequivocal.  Anything that creates a speed bump or requires deconstructing mitigates understanding and – more importantly – influence. If you wish to articulate a particular sentiment, by all means go ahead.  Just make sure everyone gets it!