Evolving digital language, as seen on TV

Evolving digital language, as seen on TV

‘As seen on TV’ is one of those phrases commonplace enough to feel like a natural part of our phraseology. It was new once, though, and there will come a time when it is old and its meaning obscured by the mists of time.

Walking past a supermarket today, I caught sight of a poster in the window showing a single product, emblazoned with a red flash proudly proclaiming ‘As seen on TV’ – a hallmark of quality in the eyes of the copyrighter. For the first time I found myself considering what that really implied and how its interpretation would differ across the generations given the changes to how users view video content.

Personally, my all important first impressions of TV were formed in the UK, when there were three channels, received through a TV-mounted wire aerial which needed to be adjusted constantly to get a decent signal. Our neighbours still had a black and white screen, with a rotary dial for tuning. Talk to someone, say, from the US who grew up in the same period, and they have different memories: more channels, local stations and the proliferation of cable, but still a linear, programmed experience.

In that environment ‘As seen on TV’ carried implied assurances. TV time was finite, and if something was deemed worthy of ‘air time’ it had achieved a certain cachet. This might be by commercial means, like buying advertising time  (implying the company behind the product had a certain solidity), or better still, being chosen by the channel’s curators as something independently worthy of precious screen space.

However, if you talk to someone under the age of five, the concept of a linear TV schedule and limited channel selection is alien to them. I’ve seen family members aged three using an iPhone to AirPlay the cartoon they want from YouTube to the big screen.

In an age where kids are growing up believing screens are things you command rather than observe, a phrase like ‘As seen on TV’ suddenly feels old and on the cusp of irrelevance.

The way users react to language at an instinctive level can be a useful tool to understand why customers experience things differently. Language subtly places people in time and geography, particularly during their formative years. It’s worth remembering language is not simply a factor of localisation – something to be outsourced to a QA team when you want to launch your digital product in a new market – but rather a guide to the beliefs and expectations users will have of your service.

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