Don't Make Language Your Enemy in Cause Marketing

The ad at the left is for a pair of yoga pants. When you buy them from, an unspecified donation is made to Off the Mat, Into the World, a nonprofit co-founded by the model in the ad, Seane Corn. The ad ran in the magazine Yoga Journal in May 2010.

‘Off the Mat’ is a fun name, suggesting that there’s other things in life that reward the participant in addition to yoga. So what does Off the Mat do? The ad says OTM’s mission is “inspiring conscious, sustainable community service through the power of yoga.”

I know what community service is and I understand the words conscious and sustainable in a broad way. But when they’re all combined in that sentence it seems like nonsense. It’s hard to imagine unconscious community service, for instance. In this sentence it’s as though plain English got tied up like a pretzel.

I suspect that for many of the readers of Yoga Journal words like conscious and sustainable used in this way represent a cant or argot. That is, a phraseology or idiom particular to their world.

It’s probably fair to say that few non-yoga practitioners, like myself, pick up Yoga Journal and consequently don't know the subtexts of the culture. However, just because you have your own idiom and media that caters to you is no reason to make your ads vague and unclear.

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain why in their fine book Made to Stick. Concrete language, grounded in sensory reality, is more memorable than any argot. “It’s the difference between reading about a wine (‘bold but balanced’)” the Heaths wrote in an article about their book, “and tasting it… We talk about the ‘Velcro Theory of Memory.’ In brief, this concept says that the more sensory ‘hooks’ we put into an idea, the better it will stick.”

Just as screws hold better than nails, clarity and concreteness give our memories more to hold on to than does subtext and idiom.

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