Drop the business jargon and write naturally


With apologies to the good folk of Afton Chemicals, I was somewhat depressed to see this sign outside their offices in Bracknell yesterday.

I’ve never been 100% convinced of the need for a strap line, but if you are going to have one it should at least provide some clarity about what you do.

Not only has Aston avoided that obvious route, they’ve also managed to use two of the most overused business words in one meaningless phrase. A phrase of three words in total:

“Passion for Solutions”

I wonder how many people sat in a room for how long to come up with that one.

I hope they didn’t pay anyone for it.

Let’s set aside the obvious off-the-shelf generality of the phrase and look at those two words that offend me so.

Passion killer

These days everyone and every company exclaims their passion for a product, service or field.

Job applicants say they’re passionate about sales, or accounting, or recruiting.

Companies espouse passion for whatever they produce or sell. I’m sure I saw a sign for a firm claiming a passion for ball bearings once. Some go as far as listing passion as one of their values.

Who am I to suggest they are not? I appreciate it sounds better than ‘mildly enthusiastic’ or ‘quite interested’ which is the meaning ‘passion’ is generally used to convey.

But you know what. I’d rather companies demonstrated that passion rather than continually told me about it. If you are genuinely ‘passionate’ about customer service I will notice.

Other people will tell me. And guess what. I’m far more likely to believe them than you.

However, at least most firms claim to be passionate about something tangible. Our friends at Afton reject such conformity. They are passionate about ‘solutions’.


Criticising firms for their use of ‘solutions’ has become a cliche in itself. Private Eye even has a regular column devoted to the worst examples.

But Afton’s double whammy slogan is in a class of its own, devoid of any meaning and conveying no message.

I did wonder if perhaps they were being cleverer than I thought. They supply fuel additives so perhaps those were the solutions they were passionate about. But a visit to the website proves otherwise.

“We build innovative solutions to meet your needs, and the needs of your customers,” they proudly claim. Well, that’s clear then.

In some industries it is necessary to use a bit of industry-specific jargon to prove you know your stuff. When Afton describes its fuel additives as ‘olefin copolymer viscosity index improvers’ it’s likely that’s a level of detail their customers need and expect.

But that strap line helps nobody and really should never have made it past the brainstorming phase. It takes a brave soul to challenge a consensus but if it stops you printing this kind of stuff on your business card it’s a risk worth taking.

As an aside, in the same car park I saw a van liveried to advertise ‘glazing solutions’.

So that’s windows then.

The out loud test

In another blog I talk about how helpful it is to read out your copy to ensure it sounds natural. Let me be a little more blunt here. If you can’t read something out without feeling like an arse don’t commit it to print.

This extends to using long words when short ones will do (does anyone really say ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’ in conversation?) and one of my current beefs, the use of teenage Californian language in UK social media and copy.

To use another overused word (but in my defence, in context) it is simply not authentic when firms strut around describing their services as ‘awesome’ or promising you ‘kick ass tips’.

It’s the copywriting equivalent of dad dancing at the teenage disco.

Avoid it dude.