top of page
  • Writer's pictureDusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 43 - Brands Don't Have the Rizz: Gen Z Slang Is Falling Flat in Marketing

We prove conclusively, WITH SCIENCE, that brands are only hurting themselves when they co-opt youth slang.


"How do you do, fellow marketers? We think it would be pretty 'on fleek' if you would stop trying to use slang terms to make yourself more relatable to young people."


Look, we know that brands swooping in and trying to leverage youth culture to drive sales is nothing new.


But as bad as it was in the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s, the advent of social media marketing made it 1000 times worse.

"This episode is Lit AF."

The internet never forgets, and whether it's the "Silence, Brand!" meme or the "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids" Reddit group, the web is littered with examples of companies whose attempts to ingratiate themselves with young people have earned outright scorn instead.


So in this episode, we talk to Holden Jurisich, a 24-year-old Gen Z meme expert, and his dad Jay Jurisich, the founder and creative director of the Zinzin naming and branding agency in San Francisco, to explore case studies of this phenomenon in action.


Plus, sociolinguist Dr. Valerie Fridland explains how this pattern has played out, again and again, over the centuries of English language history.


Because, while you’ll find dozens of articles explaining how to incorporate youth slang into your social media marketing, or urging you to be ironic and self-aware when you speak to Gen Z in their own language, the best advice is and always has been:


Don’t.


Just don’t do it.


Because the kids don't like it.



Subscribe to the Podcamp Media e-newsletter for more updates on the world of strategic communication.



Transcript:


Dusty Weis:

Brands swooping in and trying to leverage youth culture to drive sales is nothing new.


Archival Commercial:

This is a chunk of super soft Bubble Yum bubble gum. This is a loud, thumping, tune-pumping boombox.


Dusty Weis:

For decades, TV commercials have shown us images of beautiful young people awkwardly hawking products and using language that stands out like a sore thumb in that context.


Archival Commercial:

Still using pads? Then let me tell it to you straight.


Dusty Weis:

This longstanding trope is made even more uncomfortable by the undertones of racial appropriation that so often underpin it.


Archival Commercial:

Oh, this chicken sandwich is fresh.


Dusty Weis:

But as bad as it was in the '80s, '90s, into early 2000s, the advent of social media marketing made it a thousand times worse. Whether it's brands throwing around the term bae, keeping up with what's on fleek, or an event being totally lit, trying to stay on top of the latest Gen Z's slang on your corporate Twitter account is, as the kids would say, "Cringe AF" because that's just it. It's what the kids would say, not some social media account aspiring to be their new favorite brand.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

The whole point of language slang is that it sets you apart. So when parents try to do the very key thing that's making a 15-year-old feel cool, not cool anymore.


Dusty Weis:

Dr. Valerie Fridland is a sociolinguist who literally wrote the book on how slang evolves, and while you'll find dozens of articles littering the internet explaining how to incorporate youth slang into your social media marketing, we're urging you to be ironic and self-aware when you speak to Gen Z in their own language. Here's my thesis for today's show: don't. Just don't do it because they don't want it.


Holden Jurisich:

God, this is all like nails on a chalkboard.


Dusty Weis:

In this episode, we bring together firsthand Gen Z expertise and combine it with science to prove that brands don't have "the rizz," to use Gen Z slang. We'll also explain what the heck that means.


I'm Dusty Weis. From Podcamp Media, this is Lead Balloon, a podcast about compelling tales from the world of PR, marketing and branding told by the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them.


Thanks for tuning in. We're here every month with a new story about how and why strategic communicators do what they do, so make sure you follow this show on Apple Podcasts or whatever you use to listen to podcasts. The great philosopher Abraham Simpson once said...


Abraham Simpson:

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with, isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you!


Dusty Weis:

And as if referencing a TV clip that's more than 25 years old isn't a dead giveaway, I've recently found myself grappling with Grandpa Simpson's chilling prophecy. You see, I too used to be with it. As an elder millennial, my generation came of age on social media for Pete's sake. Before anybody was studying the long-term mental health effects of this stuff, we were the experimental space monkeys that blasted out to colonize this social media space. Gifs, memes, pre-emoji smiley face art? That was our language, and the grownups had no idea what was going on, but somehow, I'm 38 now and maybe it's that I no longer have the time or inclination to keep up with such things, but ever since my wife and I started having kids five years ago, I have fallen precipitously out of touch with the latest online slang, so I'm bringing in a ringer.


Holden Jurisich:

I'm 24. You might as well put me in the home already, the assisted living home.


Dusty Weis:

Holden Jurisich is a Gen Z meme expert, recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, and he is currently working some odd jobs at the San Francisco-based branding and naming agency Zinzin.


Holden Jurisich:

To land this role at Zinzin in the first place, I totally pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and succeeded in the meritocracy, and it has nothing to do with sharing the last name with the founder of the company.


Dusty Weis:

Holden's dad, Jay Jurisich, is the CEO and Creative Director of Zinzin, and has been working in the branding space for just about 25 years now.


Jay Jurisich:

If I had known Holden shared my last name, I would never have hired him. We can't be accused of nepotism around here. We're far too big and important of a international organization.


Dusty Weis:

Holden and Jay first came to my attention when I stumbled across a blog post on the Zinzin website entitled, "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?: Gen Z Speak in Naming and Branding." In it, Holden writes, "The social media era has ushered in a new kind of culture commanded by Generation Z, and with it, a new class of corporate vultures desperate to keep up, swooping into scavenge morsels of relatability. This is, of course, a game they cannot win."


Holden Jurisich:

I feel like Gen Z is pretty much universally skeptical of the whole corporate pandering thing. We've been around long enough on social media and kind of made social media a thing and we've seen all this unfold from the beginning because corporations didn't always behave this way on Twitter or whatever. They started off with very conservative and traditional marketing strategies, and ever since then, in the decade or so, they've kind of just thrown all the rules out the window.


Dusty Weis:

I've got to ask, what inspired you to write that article? What set you over the edge?


Holden Jurisich:

Well, I'd been thinking about it for a while, and as far as the specific product, I love to go to the gym. There's a kind of supplement called pre-workout that some people take to give them an extra boost. I was looking at different pre-workouts trying to find a new one to buy, and I was reminded of two pre-workouts called Lit AF and Woke AF, and if those aren't just the most obvious like Gen Z pandering names you've ever seen, I don't know what to tell you. So those two pre-workout names were kind of like the impetus to write this blog post.


Dusty Weis:

The title of Holden's Post, "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?" is a reference to a well-worn meme featuring actor Steve Buscemi's guest appearance on the hit show, 30 Rock.


Steve Buscemi:

I was part of a special task force of very young-looking cops who infiltrated high schools. How do you do, fellow kids?


Dusty Weis:

The picture of Buscemi as a haggard detective with a skateboard, a cap on backwards and a t-shirt that literally reads, "Music band," has become the go-to rebuttal to brands that try to fit in by using youth slang on social media and instead fall flat on their faces.


Jay Jurisich:

Which itself was a funny play on those movies. I don't know. One of them was 21 Jump Street, I think. Those movies where there's always like a detective who's in his or her mid or late-twenties, but they have to go undercover in high school. They already stand out like a sore thumb.


Dusty Weis:

We should note here that it's a pretty iron clad rule that you're going to have a hard time as a brand passing yourself off as teenage and hip. But we should note here that there have been exceptions to that rule historically speaking, right? As a for instance, if we go back to 1999, Holden, you might not remember this one, but Jay, I would imagine you remember the Bud Light Wassup? ad campaign.


Archival Commercial:

Wassup?

Wassup?


Dusty Weis:

That was so successful that it actually left a lasting impact on the lexicon.


Jay Jurisich:

In a long string of ads, Where's the Beef? and all the stuff throughout the '80s and '90s, what Wassup? did is it was part of a trend where we are going to show how we're hip with the youth by adopting either their slang directly or patterns of botched grammar. Got Milk? was a hugely successful campaign. "Got milk?" is not anything anyone would say in their normal life, unless it's extremely slangy, or Apple's Think Different when a lot of grammar nerds chastised them and said, "You should be, 'Think differently.' How dare you?"


Dusty Weis:

That needs to be an adverb, dammit!


Jay Jurisich:

Yeah. The Society for the Support and Deification of Adverbs was up in arms over that.


Holden Jurisich:

I was going to say, now of course we have the popular sling, "Hits different." Especially nowadays, people are not hung up on using adverbs correctly.


Dusty Weis:

Holden that hits different meme, "Shower with Axe Body Wash just hits different," it's one of those memes that I've seen a lot of brands try to co-opt for their social media voice with mixed results. But what are some other examples of brands that sort of ham-handedly try to "How do you do, fellow kids" their way into a new piece of slang?


Holden Jurisich:

I mentioned these two pre-workouts, Lit AF and Woke AF. Even worse than that probably is this new Minute Maid product called Minute Maid AF, which sort of stands for Aguas Frescas because that's what the product is, but obviously it doesn't really stand for that. They know what they're doing and they totally lean into it and all their marketing, their tweets about it and stuff. All their tweets are like, "It totally stands for Aguas Frescas and nothing else!"


I know one video they tweeted about it, it even had the TikTok robot voice narrating it to try to add an extra layer of relatability to Gen Z, the TikTok generation, and I just find it so... God, this is all like nails on the chalkboard. The bottom line is, I think most people agree on is like, look, you can get away with any marketing strategy as long as your actual product is great, but everyone that's tried this Minute Maid AF says it's literally just corn syrup water, like total affront to real authentic aguas frescas.


Dusty Weis:

Another one that I've seen come up a lot is this notion of living rent-free in one's head.


Holden Jurisich:

Oh yeah.


Dusty Weis:

I feel like this has probably peaked over the last 12 months or something here when that kind of came into peak popularity. Where do you see that one getting used by brands on the interwebs?


Holden Jurisich:

Cheetos's account on Twitter tweeted, "Flaming Hot Doritos are only good when Cheetos have sold out. Good morning," and then the official verified Doritos account quote-tweets that tweet and says, "Loving this rent-free space inside your head," and then just some regular person replies to that Doritos tweet saying, "Y'all are owned by the same company. Shut the (censored) up!"


Dusty Weis:

But it's almost performative. It pulls the mask away. They're play-acting.


Jay Jurisich:

Another one in that same vein that many more people probably saw because it was during the Super Bowl was that one commercial for Blue Moon Ale where they had, what was it, Miller and...


Dusty Weis:

Oh yeah, Miller, Coors and Blue Moon, all of which are owned by Molson Coors.


Jay Jurisich:

Molson Coors, yeah. So they think, "This is cute. We'll get these two. Everyone will be talking about, 'How can these two competitors be fighting it out?'" Maybe on the one hand, if you're trying to be really positive about all this, not that I would ever advocate anybody doing that, but if you're trying to look for a positive angle, you could say, "Well, at least they're not trying to hide the fact that they're all owned by the same parent. They're trying to use it to make fun of," but based on the backlash, it seems like it didn't go down very well with... One thing I'm always crediting Gen Z with and millennials, but even more Gen Z, is that they've got an extremely sensitive bull (censored) detector.


Holden Jurisich:

Yeah.


Jay Jurisich:

They can smell it a mile away. They're like the canary in the coal mine for BS. Before we even know it's coming, they're already fighting it on social media for us.


Dusty Weis:

Right, yeah.


Jay Jurisich:

Holden found one here, this McDonald's one that was pretty good. This is the one where it's like they threw the whole dictionary of slang into one post where they say, "Hash browns hit different when they're free, no cap." The graphics said, "Bet that. Free hash browns hit the spot." Daniel, who this was targeted, "Daniel, no fade compares to your fade. IYKYK. Remember: every order earns points," blah, blah, blah.


Holden Jurisich:

Which stands for, "If you know you know."


Jay Jurisich:

Which I immediately wanted to change to IYKYDK, if you know you don't know, because they thought they knew and they clearly didn't know.


Holden Jurisich:

One of the best examples I've found so far that I have to make sure to mention these old tweets from DiGiorno Pizza. I didn't see this happen at the time. It looks like it was maybe 2014, but people were tweeting the hashtag #WhyIStayed with examples of why they stayed in abusive relationships, super heavy, serious stuff. One person tweets, "I stayed because I was manipulated and deceived, battered physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. My strength was gone. #WhyIStayed." And then DiGiorno Pizza tweets, "#WhyIStayed you had pizza," and then later they follow up and tweet, "A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting."


So that's probably one of the most direct examples I've found so far of brands adopting stuff they don't understand and just falling flat on their face.


Dusty Weis:

Jay, as someone who's worked in the business for a long time, can you just explain to us the logistics of what went on behind the scene in that social media manager's office?


Jay Jurisich:

Before or after they got fired?


Dusty Weis:

Walk us through the step-by-step.


Jay Jurisich:

There were a lot of people in a room all saying, "It wasn't me, it was him or her," pointing to somebody else. Somebody lower down on the food chain took the blame.

Why it happened is because they're acting on a superficial level. They're seeing language only superficially. We can take language, in other words, and just play with it and use it, and I'm all for playing with language. That's what we do. But you have to understand what that language means. You can't break the rules or you shouldn't try to break the rules unless you understand what the rules are, unless you understand what these things mean. Don't start adopting language if you don't know what it's about, especially in our era, because our era, it's not that our era has more colloquial language or slang language than any other era. I think this has always happened. It's just that our era is the first era where every little niche can broadcast their language to the world and every little broadcast of language, no matter how niche, couldn't potentially get shared with the whole world and cause all kinds of trouble.


So we're in an era, a true era of mass communication. This is why companies get into trouble just with having bad brands in general or bad names, is that they treat it too much as a superficial signifier instead of going deep into language.


Dusty Weis:

Jay's point there about going deeper with language is well taken. We are, after all, professional communicators. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then the wanton irresponsible use of someone else's slang amounts to reckless endangerment, or at the bare minimum, professional malpractice. So we're going to take Jay's advice and go really deep on language with one of the world's leading sociolinguists, Dr. Valerie Fridland, because if I am going to prove to you scientifically that it's a bad idea to co-opt someone else's slang in your branding, we are going to need to understand where slang comes from, how it evolves, and how this pattern has played out again and again over the centuries.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

A lot of these words that we think are very new and trendy today are actually ones that come to us with a long history.


Dusty Weis:

And that is coming up in a moment here on Lead Balloon.


This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. Slang, it's one of those things that, well, if you know, you know. Someone either moves through it effortlessly and naturally or they use it gawkily and awkwardly like me, and then you know that they just don't belong.


Jay and Holden opened with some great examples of brands that very clearly didn't belong with the language they were using, but I wanted to go deeper into the science of why it is next to impossible for brands to get it right when they try to use slang to ingratiate themselves with the target audience. And our next guest is perhaps the best person in the world to answer that question. Sociolinguist Dr. Valerie Fridland is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Nevada in Reno and author of the blog, Language in the Wild, which also appears regularly in Psychology Today. You've probably heard her on NPR or CBS, but she's also the author of a new book, Like, Literally, Dude: Arguing for the Good in Bad English.


So Dr. Fridland, thank you for joining us today here on Lead Balloon.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Absolutely. Thanks for inviting me.


Dusty Weis:

So Dr. Fridland, I've heard of a linguist before and I've heard of a sociologist, but the portmanteau sociolinguist is not one that I see in the wild a whole lot.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Yes, and I'm pretty impressed with how well you pronounced it because a lot of people really dislike saying "sociolinguist" several times in a row. It's a tongue twister, but it's really apt, the way you described it. I'm kind of a combination between a theoretical linguist, one who looks at the underlying structures and patterns that we find in languages worldwide, and a sociologist or a psychologist, particularly a social psychologist, that looks at the way our minds work psychologically and how that interacts with different aspects of our culture and our social life.


Dusty Weis:

So it's sort of like you've got this Venn diagram of these two sciences and you're studying that really interesting slice down the middle of those two.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

It's a fairly large slice, and I think historically, we didn't look at it that way. A lot of historical linguists looked at language as a static entity that only change from contact with other languages or just through natural processes of the brain and the mouth. But what we find retrospectively is that actually most of the changes that get triggered get triggered from social roots, not linguistic ones. It's the interaction between what happens in our brains and what happens in our mouth and what happens in our social world, and that is the magic mix that makes languages change over time.


Dusty Weis:

Like Holden and Jay, Valerie also finds herself cringing at the clunky attempts of social media marketers to be just another one of the kids from a professional perspective certainly, but also because not even sociolinguists are immune.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

My students do a great job of trying to teach me new slang and then find it endlessly entertaining when I try to adopt it. The whole point of language slang is that it sets you apart as somebody slightly rebellious, somebody kind of non-conformist, something novel, something extravagant in the way that you're using language. When people adopt it, what they do is make it everybody's speech.


And that's exactly the problem for adopting youth slang because if you think about branding, these new forms and features that young people introduce into language at an exceedingly fast rate, it's really what has driven language change forward over time, those things are their brands. They are doing them because of a brand they're staking and it's one that is in opposition to the adult world. It's often in opposition to the school culture, the institutional culture. It's often in reference to the groups that they want to emulate.


Now, this is all very subconscious. It's not agentive, but they sort of hear someone doing something or saying something from a group that has positive social connotations to young speakers. Often they're not ones that are valued in adult culture socioeconomically perhaps, but to a 15-year-old, it's very cool, it's non-conformist. It's counterculture. It's slightly rebellious. That screams, "Cool!" Parents scream, "Completely uncool!" So when parents try to do the very key thing that's making a 15-year-old feel cool, not cool anymore. And that's really the problem with trying to adopt youth slang if it's not authentic and it's not driven by a product in which that kind of branding makes sense.


Dusty Weis:

In other words, by the time Netflix is tweeting about bae, the word bae has lost all of its use to the people who were originally using it and Netflix was trying to target with that tweet.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Exactly. I think a great example of that recently is rizz, the word rizz. I don't know if you're familiar, if your teenagers have taught you, if you have teenagers?


Dusty Weis:

No. I am so... No, no.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

If you have teenagers, you've probably heard that word and it means... It's really from charisma, although I don't think most teenagers using that realize it's a spinoff of charisma, but it means you've got this unstated appeal that just makes... And it's usually used in reference to women thronging at men, but it was brought into the culture by an African-American social influencer.


Dusty Weis:

Kai Cenat is the YouTuber and Twitch streamer credited with coining the term and this clip from his TikTok offers the definitive definition.


Kai Cenat:

rizz is when you're talking to a girl and at first, (censored) is not going your way. It's looking bad for you, my boy. It's looking horrible. It's looking terrible for you until you spit game. So we're like, "Okay, wait, hold on, (censored) is starting to go your way." Yo, you're just so sick with your words and what you're saying, after (censored) goes your way, oh yeah, I rizz her up. I got mad rizz.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

And it went viral. Viral, viral, viral. Everybody, I mean, all these little kids all over the country started talking about rizz and doing videos about rizz because it really caught onto that sense of what's really part of being an adolescent is trying to define your attractiveness and having fun with the fact that often you're not that attractive and you're kind of geeky. And that's sort of what rizz was capturing.


Dusty Weis:

But of course, trending on TikTok with 10 billion views and counting, rizz was bound to attract the attention of marketers. Arizona Iced Tea began tweeting about itself as, "A-rizz-ona Iced Tea," vendors hawked unspoken rizz t-shirts on Amazon, and personal products behemoth, Colgate-Palmolive, pushed out special edition versions of its Irish Spring Soap brand bearing the logo "Irizz Springs" because nothing says African-American influencer culture like Ireland.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

But as soon as it started to go mainstream, young people stopped saying it and the inventor of the word totally turned off from it.


Kai Cenat:

(Censored) TikTok butchered that word. They (censored) killed it. It's not even my thing no more.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

So that's exactly the problem is once you start to adopt it into a culture in which it doesn't really fit or belong or now it's shared by everybody, even people that don't embody that characteristic, it's no longer a very useful tool. If brands that don't necessarily have any kind of youth culture built into their brand, then it's appropriation in a way that people don't like and it will turn them off.


Dusty Weis:

If you're feeling a little bit like Grandpa Simpson here, good. We all used to be with it until they changed what it was. And Valerie says, "And that's kind of the point." This pattern has been going on for centuries and she's got the research to prove it.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

We can actually go back in time and look at informal letters at diaries and plays that have vernacular characters in them and find that these features are actually centuries-old and were used in very much the way they're used today to be cool back in the early modern period. And Shakespeare himself was a little bit bawdy. A lot of his words that he brought into the fore, like green-eyed monster, those kinds of things for envy, those were actually kind of hip and cool at the time, and like is a word that we find in informal colloquial speech in the 1700s that we can track through looking at trial transcripts from that era when often low-class not well-educated witnesses would have what they said transcribed and we see like there used as a discourse marker, much like it is today.

So a lot of these words that we think are very new and trendy today are actually ones that come to us with a long history, but they have been sort of quietly under the surface until they get picked up by something like Moon Unit Zappa and So Cal culture. Then they get generated into the mass media and then they become a thing. They become it, using your earlier quotation.


Dusty Weis:

Right, right. So what's the process then? Besides just the youth, who is it that's driving these changes in slang? You mentioned earlier the influencer, but we haven't always had social media influencers as we know them. So historically speaking, how does a new piece of slang enter the lexicon and become widely adopted?


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Well, actually if you look in the historical record, adolescence, the period we have now where parents tried to survive and children hopefully thrive, that is a fairly new thing. That's not been around that long. So prior to about the 1930s, we didn't have a teenage period. We didn't have this extended period of life, so youth culture didn't really exist until about the 1930s.


What was the thing was class standing, what was a thing was gender, and massive changes in our culture between the 1500s and the 1800s really is what brought so much language change that we think of today as the correct forms into our culture and into our language. So what we find is during the early modern period, we have massive migration into London, which was the cultural capital. You had never really had class mobility prior to this point, but all of a sudden, you're starting to get the rise of a merchant class. The middle class is coming into existence for the first time. A fledgling notion of free will and individuality was coming up at this point, and this is where language starts to really embody social facts about us.


The people that were coming into London, usually fairly poor, had different variants. And we tend to think of, oh, well standard speech is the speech of the upper class, of the educated, but the reality is many of the things that we speak today in standard English started with the lower class in this period.


Dusty Weis:

Interesting.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Because naturally occurring change comes into the language and then it slowly gets used in everyday speech, talking about informal context, talking about those things that you talk about when your children are little, the things that you talk about between husband and wife. Women, at the time, didn't have a lot of education, even upper class women. They weren't literate. Literacy is really a fairly new thing. It's only about 200 years that we've had more widespread literacy. And women tended to go to the markets, interact with all these different groups, and they would bring home these features that, to them, were the features of intimacy, the features of extravagance like we talked about, where it stands out for some reason, the features of colloquialism, of everyday talk, and of topics that you've talked about among intimates.


When we start using things in our everyday life, they slowly creep up to become the speech of everybody in their everyday life, and that's how they slowly start to become established as the new norms. And this was just happening at the time when codification and standardization was first occurring in the 1700s. So a lot of the things that had crept up through the class hierarchy, through women particularly being involved, a lot of these forms we see primarily in women's letters early on and lower class merchants and tradesmen, they start to creep into the language of the men who make up the learned educated class, and that's how they become the things that are codified in the 18th century in the dictionaries and the grammar books and the usage guides.


So this is things like instead of "doth" and "hath," you say "does" and "has." That was actually considered an informal colloquial use that women seem to have led the charge in. This would also be the switch from using ye as a subject pronoun and you as an object pronoun, which is traditionally how it should have been, kind of like saying, "Him and me went to the store." All of a sudden, you starts being used in that position, just like him and me are sometimes now used as subjects. You, which was an object pronoun, starts getting used as subject. Again, we find that more often in women's letters. Progressive reforms on verbs, which were considered emphatic at the time, usually you said it when you were emphasizing something and the types of informal conversations that you would have, it slowly crept in, and by the 19th century we find it as standard through women's letters and also through the lower class.


So this fascinating movement up the social hierarchy from the lower class led change with women as sort of the stylistic leaders and then it becomes a speech that everybody uses.


Dusty Weis:

Right, yeah. And you talk about the process being one of very slow and gradual change and certainly, that's because most of the communication was taking place in local settings or via the written letter at that point. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that over the last 30 years in the world of communication, we have seen the pace of change speed up exponentially over and over again. And so I just have to guess that the pace of slang evolution has sped up as well over the last 30 years?


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

Absolutely, and that's mainly from social media and there's this in interconnectedness that we have today. Other changes haven't sped up. So things like the low-level vowel changes that are affecting different regions. So for example, I can hear some northern cities shift vowel patterns in your speech.


Dusty Weis:

Oh, you betcha.


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

And I have a slightly southern vowel features because that's where I grew up. So those things actually are surprisingly hanging on, and even this mass communication mobility doesn't seem to spread lower level changes like that because people aren't even aware of them. But words in particular, slang in particular has caught on crazy, particularly because the groups that are elevated in those forums, so who's popular on Twitter, who's popular on social media, it's usually young people from cool subcultures that then other people want to emulate, so those things just spread like wildfire.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah. Unfortunately, I don't see anybody striving to emulate my Wisconsin accent anytime soon, but we started a discussion moments ago about what brands have to gain by adopting slang terms in their social media marketing copy, but conversely, I want to talk about what they stand to lose. What do they risk when they come off as inauthentic?


Dr. Valerie Fridland:

I think we put a lot of value on authenticity in our culture. We do not like it when someone takes on characteristics that we feel we have some sort of ownership over, and that can be youth culture, that can be African-American culture, that can be feminine culture, masculine culture, whatever that culture is, we recognize what it means to be an authentic member of that culture and we value that. And so when we see groups that don't have the authority in that community to be doing that, that's considered really inauthentic, and we do not like it when people appropriate our values because it can come across as mocking. That doesn't really serve your purposes when you're marketing.


I think the key is to understand the difference between genuine representation and appropriation, and if you are doing something that doesn't come from the type of product that you're selling or the type of service that you're selling in a natural fit, then you shouldn't be doing it. You should find another way to market it. I think that's the fundamental difference.


And one of the ways to understand this would be to make sure that people from the whatever community you are taking that from, whether it's youth culture or African-American culture or whoever you're borrowing the terms from, that maybe you actually have conversations with those groups to make sure that you're doing it in an authentic way. And if not, then that will actually save you a lot of trouble on the backend because whatever you put in terms of effort of finding that out on the front end will keep you from making big mistakes.


Dusty Weis:

The internet is of course littered with examples of brands that ignored this advice and then paid for it. There's even a popular Reddit group called How Do You Do Fellow Kids dedicated to skewering them, referencing that Steve Buschemi meme that, somewhat ironically now, has been around long enough to itself be 10 years out of date.


So why then, why do brands continually ignore Valerie's good advice and try to insert themselves into youth culture? I put that question to Jay Jurisich from the branding agency Zinzin.


Jay Jurisich:

I guess they don't understand that advice. If they don't understand the slang, there might be a lot they don't understand, including the advice, and the allure of chasing that demographic is just too strong and maybe they don't have enough or any people of that demographic on staff that can clue them in. Hire more young people and make sure that they remain clued in and empower them. Don't do it out of tokenism. Empower them to use their voice internally and bang their fist on the table if they see stuff like this about to happen.


I think that marketing departments used to think, "Okay, any campaign we do, we're going to be fully vetting it through all demographics and everything and we'll even focus group stuff, whatever we have to do to make sure it's squeaky clean." But with Twitter, with fast-paced social media where they have to react quickly, I think they skip those steps and they just have people going right into it. And if those people aren't really sharp, they're going to fall into these traps all the time. But that should be one that every company just automatically figures out right away, which is if I'm going to co-opt a hashtag, understand what that means, or if I'm going to co-opt a piece of slang, understand what that means. It doesn't take long to do your research.


Dusty Weis:

What's interesting about all this to me as well is I think this idea of knowing what your expertise is and knowing what is not your space and drawing a boundary between the two, I think that that's good branding advice, but I also think that that's good, if I may extrapolate, I think that's good parenting advice.


Now Jay, I have a five-year-old son. I have a three-year-old daughter. I have a 10-month-old son, and right now, they think that I am the coolest, toughest, funniest person on the planet, but I know that that will not always be the case. So as someone whose young adult son is still willing to be seen in public with him, tell me what's the secret to being a cool dad?


Jay Jurisich:

I think that everything you try to do to be a cool dad who will work up until about 12. The skepticism will start to creep in around 11 or 12. It'll turn jovial at around 10 or 11, like, "Ah, dad," and then by 13, it'll really turn. Then those teen years, they won't want to have anything to do with you. But you work it out so that when they come out the other end, they realize that, okay, you are okay to talk to. You're still an old fart at that point. At least they can talk to you again in a human way.


Dusty Weis:

Is it steering into the being a lame dad thing or is it just not doing a bit at all?


Jay Jurisich:

No, I think you got to lean into it. I think you have to own it because you can't fake it. You can't say, "Okay, I'm going to tone it down and try to be really like, well, I can be the perfect dad." Again, their BS detector is so attuned.

I think the reason teens act like this is they're trying to figure out who they are in the world and rebelling against their parents and the previous generation is part of that, or at least if not active rebelling, at least questioning everything. And that's a good thing. So anything you do will be questioned if you try to act normal, you'll be questioned for that. If you try to be wacky and goofy, you'll embarrass the hell out of them and you'll be questioned for that. In other words, you can't try to do anything based on what you think how their reaction will be. They will always surprise you. All you can do is just be yourself.


And this is what brands should do. They should be their authentic self and if they are authentic and they have a good story to tell and they have hopefully a great memorable name, that's what we're all about, and they deliver on the goods as Holden mentioned, they have a good product that people want, they'll do all right. They could be really successful. They don't have to go out of their way to try to chase niche groups down various rabbit holes that are often going to end up being a trap.


Dusty Weis:

Holden, I'm going to give you last word here as our representative Gen Zer here, as the guy that was raised by this other guy that we're talking to, was your dad a lame dad or a cool dad?


Holden Jurisich:

I would say a healthy mix of both. You think that's fair, right?


Jay Jurisich:

I would say overwhelmingly cool, but it's your perspective, not mine.


Dusty Weis:

Well, there you go. Jay Jurisich, CEO and Creative Director of the Zinzin Agency, and Holden Jurisich, token Gen Z creative and resident meme expert. You clearly have both understood the assignment. That's something my research has led me to believe that the kids say. So thank you for joining us here on Lead Balloon.


Holden Jurisich:

Amazing. Thank you.


Jay Jurisich:

Thanks.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks as well to sociolinguist, Dr. Valerie Fridland from the University of Nevada in Reno. Her new book, Like, Literally, Dude: Arguing for the Good in Bad English, is available wherever you get fine books. And for an avowed grammar nerd like me, it is equal parts fascinating and infuriating. Don't get me wrong, she lays out a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for everything that she's saying, but I did take issue with her contention that the word literally no longer meaning literally is not a big deal. And if you want to hear the spirited, half-kidding debate that ensued over that, I will post it as a bonus episode if five new people leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. I'll be watching. You, yes, you can get us 20% of the way there by leaving a review right now, and then we can all marvel as I go to the walls for pedantic sticks in the mud everywhere in a debate that will figuratively melt your mind. Figuratively.


Please do follow Lead Balloon on your favorite podcast app. Find Podcamp Media on LinkedIn or any other social platform. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses. Our podcast studios are located in the heart of beautiful downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we work with brands all over North America. PodCampMedia.com.


I was the producer, story editor, and writer for this episode. Will Henry took point on the dialogue editing, and music for this episode is by Adam Saban, Aeroplanes, Cast Of Characters, Dresden the Flamingo, Famous Cats, and Midnight Daydream.


So until the next time, folks, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

73 views0 comments

Comentários


bottom of page