Thursday, 5 March 2009

Icon, therefore I am

I have just read one of those articles that make you hang your head in shame and shout "Guilty!".

In the latest issue of Intelligent Life, Jonathan Meades writes about "The Adjective of the Age." He's talking about the word "iconic" and wonders where most of today's journalists would be without it. Apparently, The New York Times had 11 instances of the word's use in 1988 and 442 in 2008. There's also a very amusing list of genuine examples that Mr Meades has found, including "iconic bucket", "iconic moment" (this combines two over-used words very nicely), "iconic toilet paper" and "iconic zip hoodie".

The rise and rise of the description "iconic" can be attributed, Mr Meades says, to our era of "incontinent celebration": everything has to be "awesome", "legendary" or at least "150%" - 100% just doesn't cut it these days.

I must say that I have "guilty" written all over me when it comes to icons and iconic. I don't know when I started doing it, but these words have crept into more than a few creative briefs and strategy presentations over the last few years. And I am not alone. Some of us have even named our companies or some part of our brand models or tools "icon" or "iconic".

Uh-oh. So what's to do? The problem is that once everyone starts using a word and applying it to almost everything, it loses its power. Even when we do work on brands or products that are genuinely iconic (and Joanathan Meades gives a good 4-point checklist), we need to be a bit more specific about the nature of this "iconness". Is the brand stereotypical for its category? Is it totally atypical? Is it a brand that invented a category? Is it simply ubiquitous? Is it the longest-established? Is it unusually popular? Is it the "generic", like Hoover?

I am going to consciously cut down on my usage of the word and its derivatives. I also noticed, in writing the title, that only a space separates "Icon" from "I con".

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