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Mind your language

Digital English is changing the way we talk, online and offline: so what does this mean for our marketing communications? By Jax Lynch

What did you do on the weekend? Now there’s an Americanisation that always makes me flinch, growing up as I did in an era where we did stuff at the weekend.

But of course, like all living languages, English changes all the time, as it should. It is in a constant state of metamorphosis as it absorbs new words and others become obsolete. And the internet is playing a pivotal role in driving (and accelerating) this evolution.

The digital world has produced new words (lol, obv), new punctuation styles (I. Can’t. Emphasise. This. Enough), new forms of communication (the meme, which seamlessly integrates language and image) and even new languages. While English dominates the internet, non-native English users vastly outnumber those whose first language is English, and this has led to new hybrid languages like Hinglish – a blend of Punjabi, Urdu, English and Hindi – which gave us the universal suffix ‘innit’.

In this way, the internet not only widens our vocabulary but exposes us to entirely new dialects, as you will know if you’ve ever shared a bus with a bunch of middle-class schoolchildren calling each other ‘blud’ and ‘fam.’

Digital tech has also led to the rise of the emoji, a form of communication with the ability to transcend language, and already a powerful tool in online marketing (although some might say it harks back to one of the earliest forms of communication, the hieroglyph).

Emmy Favilla, the editor who created astyle guide for Buzzfeed,points out that the digitally-driven evolution of English has led to “a less formal-but arguably more expressive- language than the one we use IRL.”

For those of us whose profession involves creating written communications, this presents both challenge and opportunity. The old rule book has been torn up; what should guide us now?

Two things: context and judgement. It’s never been more important for marketers to stay in touch with the changing ways in which people talk and communicate, online and offline. But we should apply this knowledge carefully, in alignment with our target market and brand identity.

So it was probably not a good idea for the BBC’s Seoul correspondent to tweet that she was rendered ‘totes emosh’ by the historic meeting of the leaders of North and South Korea. (This tonal misfire made the BBC’s former editorial director, Roger Mosey, ‘shudder’ and predict doom for the Corporation’s future.)

Don’t use slang, hashtags and abbreviations if they are not part of your audience’s lexicon or your own brand tone of voice (my 13-year-old son recoiled when I came out with ‘cray-cray’ recently), but do find an authentic, relevant tone of voice that will engage them. And consider the medium you’re using; a more casual punctuation style will feel ‘off’ in a direct mail pack but could work a treat in a tweet.

So once you’ve studied your audience and checked your style guide, trust your judgement and go for it. Language is fun and we should all play with it a little more… even on the weekend.

About 11 London

11 London is an advertising and communications agency, based in West London but working globally. We work in the areas of health and humanity, with organisations, brands or products that improve or prolong life.

Our PR services include working with clients to discover and amplify their core messages in order to build profile and engage new audiences. We co-ordinate advertising and social activity with PR campaigns and collaborate closely to support in-house resource. To learn more about 11 London, please contact:


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