Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Translation. And meaning.

My wife, who is a creative director and copywriter, told me the other day at lunch that she'd like to get a desktop monitor for her home office. This ain't the Flintstones with Wilma asking Fred's permission to buy a new saber-tooth print dress. If my wife wants something she certainly doesn't have to check in with me.

It was her way, however, of asking me to take care of the matter. I've bought most of the electronics in our homes--from our wireless mesh systems, to our computers, pads, printers and phones. I'd say my success rate on things I buy is about 65%--so in the scheme of things, I'm doing pretty well.

However, I haven't bought a monitor since the world switched to laptops about 20 years ago. The last one I got was about the size of a Mini Cooper and I bought it used when I was at an agency called Lowe and they were getting rid of last year's models.

I went where I go when I buy things--from garden hoses to washer-dryers: the Wirecutter. A service of The New York Times that supposedly rates products with objectivity. Whether or not they do, I've been happy with their recommendations and I quickly went to Amazon to price the monitor they suggested.

I knew I was really at their mercy--I know nothing about monitors. After visiting the appropriate product page, I still knew nothing. On that page, I was shown a list of bullet points, none of which meant anything to me, none of which the seller bothered to explain. 

Like so much "advertising" today--there is an abundance of crap and a shortage of information. Virtually none of the information below means anything to me. Does it mean anything to you?

Brightness: 250cd/m2
Static Contrast Ratio: 1.000:1
Response Time: 5ms
Resolution: FHD 1080p

Or this:

Or this:

Screen Size        24 Inches
Resolution        FHD 1080p
Display Technology        LCD
Brand        ViewSonic
Series        VA

About this item

  • GREAT FOR HOME AND OFFICE: An ideal all-around display for desktop, or laptop
  • SEE THE DIFFERENCE: Razor-sharp clarity and detail with Full HD (1920x1080p) resolution
  • ENHANCED VIEWING COMFORT: Flicker-Free technology and Blue Light Filter for all-day comfort
  • FLEXIBLE CONNECTIVITY: The VA2446MH-LED supports laptops, PCs, Macs, and POS systems with HDMI, and VGA inputs
  • INDUSTRY-LEADING WARRANTY: 3-year coverage with access to our US-based customer service team
  • INCLUDED IN THE BOX: LCD Monitor, Power Cable, VGA Cable, and Audio Cable

Maybe the truth is that nobody knows what these things mean--not even the manufacturer. Certainly, no one feels it's important to take the time to explain anything to anyone.

I'm not an ignoramus but I feel just as in the dark when I go to a high-end restaurant, even a high-end restaurant in Connecticut, which is hardly the Right Bank of the Seine. The other night my wife and I went to a restaurant that had 'nduja, gremolata, ribollita, yuzukoshu, and frico on the menu. I think I wound up with spaghetti and meatballs--'cause I didn't want to eat pigs' nostrils by mistake. 

For more than half my career I've worked on technology accounts and financial services accounts. Most people--including people who work on those accounts in agencies and who work on those accounts at the client--have no idea what about 9/10ths of the things they sell do.

Try to get someone to explain the difference between a home-equity line-of-credit and a homeowner's loan. Or what a hybrid cloud is and what its advantages are. Or a dual-core processor. 

For many of those years, I would say to other creatives, to planners and to account people, that our job is essentially to be translators. We take things that no one understands and we make them simple and human. Write about them so they become something people will want. I can't help but think that's our job.

Many years ago I was working on Mercedes-Benz. I was told the car had a braking system called "Brake Assist." For whatever reason, I felt compelled to explain it in terms people could understand. 

I found out something simple but interesting. The brake, based upon how hard you slam your foot on it, can actually sense trouble and panic. Slam your foot hard enough and takes over braking for you. It can pump the brake many times faster than you can: 60 times a second. That lets you stop straighter and faster than you could before.

No, that explanation never won me a small figurine at Cannes. But I'd wager it helped sell a lot of cars. Which was, after all, the point.

Back to my monitor. I'm about 75% sure I bought the wrong thing. And paid too much for it. I guess that's what they call buyer's remorse. I think my mother had it within seconds of the moment I was born.

My point is, I don't think anyone gives a shit anymore. No one takes the time to find out things. No one realizes how much little things matter to people--giving them the confidence that they're making a good decision.

I think we should all attempt to exert maximum effort at every juncture. That is, try harder.


By the way, here's a "New York Times" article on the negative effects of jargon.

But apparently, it's too laden with jargon for anyone to bother with.


No comments: