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Bill Bennett

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A cheap shot

PR and marketing people hate it when journalists describe products as ‘cheap’. We get phone calls asking us to change the word to ‘budget’ or ‘affordable’.

That’s because while ‘cheap’ means you can get something at a low price, it has a secondary meaning where the word can be used to mean ‘inferior’.

It’s not as though ‘budget’ doesn’t have a similar implication when the word is used as an adjective. No-one thinks a budget airline is going to deliver a good experience.

Oh yeah?

There’s a “says who?” problem with ‘affordable’.

That $3000 laptop might be affordable to a marketing manager, but a bus driver might not consider it affordable.

Journalists should not use words like that. There’s a risk of making readers feel bad about themselves.

We’re not perfect. I searched my site and found I have used the word 40 times over 13 years and 1500 posts.

In many cases the word is a quotation.

Guilty

Yet, your honour, at times I’m guilty as charged.

I’ve used ‘affordable’ at least a dozen times without stopping to think there could be readers who don’t agree with that word choice.

The same logic applies to the word ‘inexpensive’. My inexpensive might not be your inexpensive.

Much of the time words like ‘cheap’ or ‘affordable’ are used to contrast with ‘expensive’ or ‘unaffordable’.

Now there are two words that would get a marketing person annoyed if they appeared in a story about a product.

Although not always. The Samsung sales executives showing off the company’s folding phones a year ago were happy to position the product at the premium end of the range. A high price can be a marketing strategy.

As can ‘cheap’. Yet for some reason we are not supposed to mention that.

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2 thoughts on “A cheap shot

  1. All languages are riddled with ‘ambiguity’… …the evidence for this is in the tombs of dictionaries. The job of journalism (any writer) is to minimise the ambiguity, according to the target readership, however, in the current world disambiguation is the diligence for which the reader is left responsible… …at least till we acquire mental-telepathy::-). Hereafter, advertiser’s (and all word-wranglers) divisive miss-use and corruption of language will be ‘exposed’ and eliminated.. …won’t it?

  2. Reminds me of a learning app that I was looking at. One of the test questions I answered (and got wrong) was to describe a small restaurant without using the word small. IIRC I suggested ‘quaint’ which they marked as wrong.

    Their suggested word was ‘cosy’.

    Which I marked as wrong because if I owned a small restaurant and someone described it as cosy I’d probably hit them on general principles and even a large restaurant can be cosy if its been laid out to be so.

    The problem of trying to make everything sound good, as seems to be the case of marketeers and politicians, is that we can lose sight of the real problems.

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