Do you belong?

I follow people on Twitter and people follow me.  Twitter has been with us a while and now charities and corporate bodies are talking of accompanying their parters/investors and on whichever symbolic journey they want to take in business or service-provision.  There is a lot of talk of walking with their supporters or clients and this kind of phraseology is increasingly widespread.

A quick search on Google will find you lots of examples.  The following are from organisations not among my clients:

“We stand with the Pakistani people and walk with our partners on the path of a liberal democracy with human and civic rights as well as the freedom of equal citizens.” Friedrich Naumann Foundation

“We have had the pleasure to walk with our partners in Uganda—to see schools built with Invisible Children, knowing our resources helped make it happen.” Reject Apathy (Clothing)

“Our goal is to walk with our partners, walk behind our partners, and ultimately walk away from our partners empowering them to drive their own projects forward.” Plant a Seed Foundation

It is all very nice and heartwarming.  And trendy.

As a copywriter, I make it my business to read everything about a client in terms of their aims, their self-image and their positioning in the marketplace.  This means reading things like Mission Statements and Tone of Voice documents, and it is these documents which reveal the kinds of words the organisation wants to use about itself.  There is a lot about ‘The Language of Accompaniment’.

Words are powerful, especially when fundraising for urgent humanitarian disasters and preventative development programmes.  Novelty in language is important and there is a danger that, as trends in language rise and fall, words lose their meaning and organisations get left behind.  Who would use any of the phrases in this terrific Calvin and Hobbes Cartoon?

One of my favourite things about Calvin and Hobbes is Calvin’s unrepentant butchery of the language, satirising the trends current to the strip. I wonder if Calvin would take a similar tone with the language of accompaniment in 2 years’ time when it has reached absolute saturation?

Accompaniment is just one trend in language.  Interestingly, I recently saw two instances of a different trend which also is spreading away from its point of origin.

Gyms, sports clubs and health spas command monthy subscriptions of £60.00+ from their members and they use the language of membership to bring people in.  How many charities would jump at the chance to up their baseline donation to £60.00?  Might they start to use the language of membership?

It would seem that unlikely businesses are catching on.  Here’s what I saw on the side of a dentist’s surgery:

I also saw something very similar on the side of a warehouse owned by a furniture importer(!), though I don’t have a photograph because I was driving at the time.

What does it mean to belong to a dentist?  What does it mean to belong to a furniture importer?

The presumption is that there is a benefit; perhaps some kind of discount programme or specialist service.  Membership is a curious balance of inclusion and exclusion.  You’re in; others are out.  You belong; others don’t.

It may be ugly, but it speaks to a deep human need to be part of the in-crowd.  Can it be harnessed to the good? I think so.  Would it excite you if you belonged to a charity that broke up illegal slave markets in Sudan and set people free?  Though you might never actually go and do the work on the ground, your regular donation secured your membership of a dynamic and daring charity.  You’re in.

Food for thought.

Philosphers are debating what comes after Postmodernism.  Where will society go after ultimate fragmentation?  The answer – NeoTribalism.  The ancient urge to belong will resurface and individuals will band together into tribes to live and work and belong.  The tribes will be very specific – not necessarily based around national identity.  It might be a way of living, such as semi-self-sufficiency through an allotment, or it might be working within the bonus-saturated culture of the Corporation – anything that offers a sense of in and out.

Charities might do well to position themselves as tribes; tribes with a mission.

About Rob Chidley

Professional copywriter, trad-published author and improvisational gardener.
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3 Responses to Do you belong?

  1. Fran says:

    That’s such a fascinating blog post, Rob. I’m just about to start teaching ‘Language and Power’ to my sixth formers. Can I use it?

  2. Rob Chidley says:

    Please do – I’m flattered 😀

    • Fran says:

      To be honest, I don’t know why you don’t try and sell this kind of thing to the Business Pages of the papers or something like that. You write so well. And I’m not just saying that because you liked my book cover…… Smiley-emoticon-only-I-don’t-know-how-to-do-smileys-on-comments

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