Stop ‘making a difference’. Stop it now.

Ryan Wallman
August 25, 2015

On the off chance that you haven’t noticed, everyone is making a difference these days. 

Just last weekend, in a single newspaper, I saw no fewer than five instances of organisations claiming to ‘make a difference’.

There was this.

ADVERTISING

 

This.

advertising

 

Also this.

advertising

 

This.

advertising

 

And not to be outdone, this. 

 advertising

 

Anyway, let’s not labour the point. I think you’ll agree that the point has been well and truly laboured.

‘Making a difference’ was already a hackneyed expression several years ago, especially in healthcare communications.

And yet it seems that many people are unaware of the faintly ludicrous status of this phrase, for it continues to be ubiquitous.

Hospital ads, school ads, job ads, you name it. You’d think it was illegal for any organisation with so much as a vaguely altruistic purpose not to assert how much difference it’s making.

Now, to be fair, ‘making a difference’ probably started off quite innocently – and it is, after all, an honourable sentiment.

It’s simple but emotive, with a rallying quality. And it genuinely describes the function of most healthcare providers, educators and charities. They can and do make a difference to people’s lives. 

But there really can be too much of a good thing when it comes to language like this.

It doesn’t take long for a worthy sentiment to become an infuriating cliché. Someone sees it somewhere, likes the sound of it, mentions it at a meeting, adopts it for their own organisation, and on it goes.

So the irony is that what may well be a credible claim appears disingenuous, if not outright dishonest. 

Can all these difference-makers really be making such a difference? If their tired and, frankly, lazy choice of language is any guide, you have to wonder whether they would be sufficiently ‘committed’ (to use another awful cliché) to make any difference at all.

And another problem with ‘making a difference’ is differentiation – or rather the lack of it. When everyone is saying the same thing, everyone seems the same. Any genuine differences get lost in a blancmange of indistinguishable platitudes.

So my advice is to stop saying you make a difference. It will make a difference to your communications.

But in case you need any reminding, just refer to this handy algorithm.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 10.46.59 am 

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

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