You will by now have seen the video of Joey Barton being interviewed by the French press (above).
And you will surely have seen the Shteeve McClaren interview from his time in Holland:
Both videos are brilliantly entertaining, but they got me wondering about the motivations behind this evidently illogical way of talking.
It turns out there's a linguistic term for it – communication accommodation. This takes place when any individual consciously or subconsciously adapts their speech pattern to reflect the person they’re addressing. This usually takes place in subtle ways – mimicking the inflection or using similar vocabulary. When speaking to non-native English speakers, you might also slow down and soften your regional accent, in a reasonable and helpful attempt to make yourself understood.
To some extent, this is what Shteeve And Joe Le Barton are doing – speaking more slowly to make themselves understood, and bringing their accents more in line with the accent of their target audience. For all the mockery they attract, there is a sweet and appealing side to what’s going on – they are trying to help.
But in each case, this is clearly an example of communication over-accommodation: adapting your speech patterns in a way that is so extreme that it becomes condescending and counter-productive.
I wonder whether the term ‘communication over-accommodation’ might come in useful in a branding context too. This may be stretching the analogy, but many brands are continually engaged in a form of communication accommodation – adapting their native language to suit what they perceive as the preferences of their audience. While the default position for a business might be to use formal business-speak and insider jargon, the ‘communication accommodation’ instinct rightly leads them to adopt a more informal, accessible tone in their outside communications.
But in so many cases, it goes further than that. From trying to be personal and accessible, brands end up over-accommodating to the point of being condescending and counter-productive. It’s one thing to stop saying “Please find enclosed herewith the information requested”. It’s another to say “Hiya! Look inside me and you’ll find that gubbins you were after!”
I realise this is one of those posts that takes a topical event and says, 'When you think about it, that's a bit like branding, isn't it?'. But it is a bit like branding, isn't it? There are many Joey Barton and Steve McClaren brands out there. Good instincts, bad execution.
Meanwhile, and on a slightly different note, I'm continuing to document the gap between What you think your Tone of Voice is and what your Tone of Voice is. Joe Le Barton is the latest addition at the foot of the page.