A word to conjure with

Oxford Dictionaries have named their word of the year.

And it’s ‘post-truth’.

Like previous words of the year, it reflects our changing society.

Winners in the past have included ‘selfie’, ‘simples’ and ‘bovvered’.

But while these past winners seem to be more social and upbeat, ‘post-truth’ is different.

And when you look at the other words on the shortlist, it tells us a bit more about how the world looks in 2016.

There was ‘adulting’ (behaving like a responsible adult), ‘chatbot’ (a computer designed to communicate like a human) and ‘hygge’ (a Danish concept of cosiness and wellbeing).

All in line with previous years.

But others on the shortlist included ‘alt-right’ (extreme conservative views), ‘Brexiteer’ (I shouldn’t need to explain) and ‘woke’ (being alert to injustice, particularly racism).

There was even ‘coulrophobia’ – an extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

So, what do these choices tell us about today’s world?

For many, the rise of the alt-right in the US, the Brexit vote in the UK and even the need to become more alert to racism show the world is a more dangerous place.

And as for a fear of clowns, the spate of clown attacks around the world just heightens that sense of danger.

But, for me, ‘post-truth’ is the most dangerous concept of all.

The dictionaries define it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In short, the truth matters less than it did.

If you feel something is true (or false), then it doesn’t matter whether it is or not.

Even if all the evidence is stacked against you.

Which could have major implications.

In fact, it could make things a lot easier for copywriters like me.

In the past we had to justify any claims we made in adverts or marketing materials.

Even when we were appealing to the audience’s emotions.

Now, as long as the audience believes what we tell them, can we say anything?

Some might think so.

And they might start to test the theory.

So, you might ask, what harm would it do if occasionally we let our emotions get in the way of the truth?

After all, there have been plenty of examples of advertisers who did just that, by appealing to what consumers wanted to believe.

And, yes, when you’re talking about yoghurt or breakfast cereals it might seem trivial.

But what about pharmaceuticals?

Or politics?

Because when politicians routinely resort to blatant lies and appeal to emotions over facts, then it becomes increasingly dangerous.

And that’s not just ‘post-truth’.

It may well be post-everything.


Believe. And repeat.

“Crooked Hillary.”

What does that make you think?

It’s a phrase that Donald Trump uses at every opportunity to describe his presidential election opponent.

Without any hard evidence to back it up.

He throws vague accusations and innuendos around about Hillary Clinton’s political past.

Such as using a private email server (something she has been called ‘careless’ over by the FBI, but for which she hasn’t faced any charges).

And he keeps calling her ‘crooked’.

Of course, his supporters lap it up.

Because they want to believe she’s a crook.

But what about the undecided voters?

Surely they’ll see through his tactics.

After all, the facts speak for themselves.

Except, of course, they don’t.

In advertising, however, the facts have to speak for themselves.

You want to say something about an organisation or a product?

Then, as a copywriter, you’d better check your facts.

Again and again.

Because your words will come under intense scrutiny.

In the past, advertising standards weren’t so stringent.

And there are many slogans that would now be completely unjustifiable.

“A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” even though it’s full of sugar and fat.

“Mackeson looks good, tastes good and does you good” for a milk stout beer.

Yes, a beer that was believed to be good for you. And at one time, was actually RECOMMENDED for pregnant women.


Those cigarettes really soothed your throat. Apparently.

You get the idea.

Then people realised that making these unjustified claims was bad for advertisers, their clients and their customers.

So they brought in regulations that meant you don’t see advertisers making such outrageous claims any more.

Unless they’re so outrageous as to be ridiculous.


(Note the spelling of ‘wiings’. Although it didn’t stop them being successfully sued for not giving a customer wings.)

The thing is, a lot of people believed these advertising claims for years.

Not because they were patently true.

But because the claims were repeated, unchallenged, many times a day, every day.

And the more you repeat a claim, the more believable it becomes.

Of course, it couldn’t happen nowadays.

In advertising.

But in US politics?

Apparently, it can.

Which I think is what’s really crooked.

Really. Crooked.