Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Learning the language.

I've never been very good at learning traditional languages. I took a total of ten years of Latin and have trouble translating the edifice of a Roman Catholic church and they mostly consist of just two words: gloria and Deo.

I wasn't much better at Spanish, though I've lived in one of the biggest Spanish-speaking cities in the world for virtually my whole life. I can order dinner, ask for directions and find a bathroom, but I can't talk about El Cid, Cervantes or anything that really matters.

That said, over the years I've become adept at learning languages at work.

When I worked on Mercedes-Benz everyone considered me a gear-head. I understood complex things like high-density/low-alloy metals.

Years later, when I worked on a bank, I remember the client telling me that I was the only one in the world who could explain the difference between a home-equity line of credit and a homeowners loan.

And then when I worked on IBM and HP, I learned the language of servers, routers, software, and technology. Can you make a router sexy? Only if you understand what it really does.

I've always found that when you learn the language you can break things down and make it easy for non-speakers. You can translate, in effect, for the consumer, complicated shit into simple language.

Too often, agencies throw people into assignments and brands who don't take the time to understand them. So, they spout homilies and cliches about them. The consumer is left with uninformed drivel. Usually, marketing people at the client are also of little help. They're crappy translators too. Plus, they're afraid people will find out they don't really know what they're selling. So they usually talk louder to compensate.

The most important language an agency creative can learn is C-language.

This is the language of CEOs and CMOs. They usually know what they want. They often know what's important. They usually shroud those insights, however, in linguistic barbed wire. Once you've got the lingo down, you can cut through.

That's when good work happens.

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