The Beauty of Brevity

By Paul Lombino

And the Financial Term of the Year goes to … Fiscal Cliff.

Political and economic persuasions aside, “fiscal cliff” wins my first annual Financial Term of the Year award hands-down easily outdistancing runners-up:

Fiscal Cliff

  • Sequestration
  • Simpson-Bowles
  • Debt Ceiling
  • Plan B
  • 47 Percent
  • Nine, Nine, Nine

Special recognition goes to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who coined the term last February in reference to the massive spending cuts and tax hikes set to automatically kick in New Year’s Day. And we all know what happened January 2.

From a marketing perspective, “fiscal cliff” is a work of genius. If Bernanke had received a nickel each time the “ef” word was dropped since Election Day, he’d have a pocketful of “effing” nickels. Whether the central bank chief knew it, he achieved what private-sector marketing managers strive for with each new project: To convey a complex idea to a targeted audience using as few words as possible. Mission accomplished. (Oh, that was the 2003 winner, but for a different category.)

Clean and Alliterative

First consider the adjective “fiscal.” A tad wonkish, yet most people can associate the otherwise high-brow “fiscal” with the more familiar money, cash, mullah, or what have you. Replacing “fiscal” with, say, “economic or monetary” would have served no upside benefit while disrupting the alliterative downbeat of the two hard “cees.”

Think of what James Brown, the godfather of soul, could have done with the melodic cadence of fiscal cliff.

Uh-huh / fiss-kull kliff / uh-huh / fiss-kull kliff / say-again /

Uh-huh / fiss-kull kliff / uh-huh / fiss-kull kliff / good-gaard /

Meanwhile, the highly visual “cliff” is a perfect noun for the underlying sentiment of impending doom. After all, falling off a cliff is, generally speaking, inadvisable. There’s no need to say “Fiscal Cliff Bad.” It’s implied. Replacing cliff with, say, “precipice” would have been wasted calories.

The marriage of fiscal and cliff portrays a theme as seamless and as powerful as Things Go Better with Coke — only in half the syllables. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working on a promotional campaign for Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston. Designed to offer health tips to insurance consumers, Liberty Life’s program is simply named Be Well for Life.

That says it all. Check out the site and comment.

Ah, the beauty of brevity. Say-again.

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