As a writer, I often pump out thousands of words each day. I know that word choice matters, so I do it thoughtfully, but there are other writers who probably choose words even more carefully. I’m talking about marketers. Often they have mounds of research to help them decide which words to use. When they find a term that strikes a chord with consumers, they’ll figure out how to make it work with what they’re selling — sometimes even if the word doesn’t fit.
Sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly, marketers take creative license with words that have specific meanings. The words become watered down and, in my opinion, less useful than they used to be. Here are some examples.
Have you heard about a new menu item that some Arby’s restaurants are carrying for a limited time? They’re selling venison sandwiches in regions where hunting is common and people are already accustomed to eating deer meat, according to The Tennessean. The promotion has a “local” feel without ever using the word local or locavore, but it does use the phrase “It’s meat season,” subtly suggesting the seasonal element of locavorism. The deer aren’t local, however. They’re free-range, farm-raised in New Zealand.
So far, the Arby’s marketing campaign has succeeded with it’s subtle co-opting of seasonal eating ideology. The first restaurant to carry the venison sandwiches sold out the first day.
An artisan is someone who is skilled at making handcrafted goods in small quantities from quality materials. The word is also used to describe products made by artisans. Artisan bread, then, would be bread made by a skilled breadmaker using quality ingredients, baked in small batches. When I think of artisan bread, I think of a crusty baguette from a small boulangerie in France, not the buns that are part of fast food sandwiches.
Both Wendy’s and McDonald’s have co-opted the word “artisan” and use it in a way that doesn’t fit the textbook definition. Wendy’s Artisan Egg Sandwich is made on a “honey-wheat artisan muffin.” McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich is made on a “delectable artisan roll.”
The breads that make up these sandwiches are neither handcrafted nor made in small quantities, which means they aren’t artisan. Yet, marketers know that the word resonates with people, and they’re counting on the fact that many people will think “quality” when they hear it.
The more the word is used by marketers, the more watered down it becomes.
‘Farm to table’
The majority of the food that ends up on our tables started out on a farm. It may be a small, local, organic farm or it may be a factory farm, but unless you’re hunting animals yourself or growing your own produce, most of your food originates on some sort of farm.
The term “farm to table” is a term used by those in the food movement to indicate food that has been grown locally, seasonally and sustainably that ends up on the table — whether it’s the restaurant table or your home table. When people hear the phrase, they expect seasonal food that’s both local and sustainable.
So when a large chain restaurant uses the term, you may expect the chain has found a way to source its ingredients locally and seasonally. Brio Tuscan Grill announced a new menu earlier this year that has a “Farm-to-Table Concept.” There’s no indication that each location sources locally, seasonally or sustainably, but the farm-to-table term is used anyway.
To forage means to “search widely for food or provisions.” Walking in to a grocery store and getting the ingredients you’re looking for isn’t searching far and wide. Yet Whole Foods has a new forager feature in one of their Philadelphia locations. Shoppers can order hard-to-get ingredients at the forager kiosk, and they will be delivered to the store within a day or two. As far as I can tell, that’s ordering, not foraging.
I’ll admit to a bit of righteous indignation when I see words like these co-opted and diluted by marketers. Am I the only one who yells at the radio when I hear a commercial for Wendy’s artisan sandwiches or do you take issue with the watered-down words by marketers, too?