Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Wordy Wednesday: solutions (vs. Eddie Stobart)

"Thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you."

“Thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you.”

Some people, like Billy Connolly and Dave Allen, are great storytellers, able to keep you enthralled and entertained through the most unlikely of shaggy dog stories.

Others could be giving you the solutions to the Kennedy assassination and the death of Princess Di and all you’d hear would be ‘Blah, blah, Kennedy, blah de blah, blah Princess Di blah blah…’

The words we choose can either draw people in or make them tune out. And some words, or combinations of words, are like black holes, reflecting nothing at all back at the reader or listener. ‘Solutions’ has become one of these.

If, for instance, instead of writing ‘handing you the solutions to the Kennedy assassination and the death of Princess Di’, I’d written ‘handing you the key to the Kennedy assassination and the death of Princess Di’, I’d have injected some welcome energy into the sentence.

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But even though solution / solutions has become degraded by overuse, my objection isn’t really to its use in conversation* (though it’s far better to talk about ‘solving something’ than about ‘offering a solution’ to it), but to the use of solutions as a buzzword or a naming convention by marketers.

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Adding ‘solutions’ to an industry descriptor such as IT, cleaning, transport or logistics is the recipe for a generic name that will suck the interest out of potential customers quicker than a slurpee will give you brain freeze. (Check out my previous post about how companies who choose a generic name are forced to spend a fortune on advertising so that the public can tell them from the competition.)

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If you’re thinking, “What’s in a name?” (like Juliet, in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’), I’ll give you an example. Take Transport Solutions, the first name on the list above. (Click through to their website, by the way, and you’ll be met with their yawn-inducing mission statement, “To exceed our customers’ expectations in the transfer of their goods and documents around the world.” I suppose they at least got the apostrophe in the right place.)

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Now think about the UK’s most popular haulage company, Eddie Stobart. Over the past twenty years Eddie Stobart, with its distinctive green and red liveried trucks, emblazoned with the name in bold white type, has garnered a cult following among children, drivers and graphic designers. There’s even a fan club, the Stobart Saddos, which has more than 25,000 members, each dedicated to spotting as many of the trucks as possible: something the company, in a brilliant marketing ploy, encouraged by giving each truck a different woman’s name.

An Eddie Stobart truck, in its distinctive red & green livery

An Eddie Stobart truck, in its distinctive red & green livery

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Can’t see that happening with ‘Transport Solutions’…

A quick Google search for ‘solutions’ throws up (NB to throw up: to vomit.):

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Transport Solutions

Assistive Solutions

Anglia Cleaning Solutions

Cleaning Solutions Anglia

Evolved Media Solutions

Logistics Solutions

Transport & Storage

Solutions Estate Agents

Solutions Research

Technical Solutions

Solutions Recruitment

Cleaning Solutions

Solutions Fitness

Sims Recycling Solutions

And that’s just on page one…
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‘Solutions’ isn’t just a lazy naming convention. It’s also become a buzzword, acting as antimatter in descriptive text, particularly when it appears alongside other buzzwords such as ‘integrated’. It’s not for nothing that solutions regularly tops marketeers’ lists of banned words. 

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Much of the praise for the new GOV.UK site (described by Design Museum Deyan Sudjic as ‘the Paul Smith of websites’) is down to its compelling way with words, which includes steering clear of words like solutions. Instead they make things simpler, clearer and faster for those looking for government services and information, making life better for millions of people coping with everyday chores from getting a new passport to paying their taxes.  (Like its words, the site’s design, which is pared-down and easy to follow, is a model of clarity.)

The GOV.UK website, the portal for all government services, is the winner of the Design of the Year Award 2013

*A solution is:


a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation : there are no easy solutions to financial and marital problems.

• the correct answer to a puzzle : the solution to this month’s crossword.

a liquid mixture in which the minor component (the solute) is uniformly distributed within the major component (the solvent).

• the process or state of being dissolved in a solvent.

ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French, from Latin solutio(n-), from solvere ‘loosen’ (see solve ).

THIS is a cleaning solution...

THIS is a cleaning solution…

My advice to marketers? For the moment I’d steer clear of ‘solutions’, unless, that is, you’re selling Cif.

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One thought on “Wordy Wednesday: solutions (vs. Eddie Stobart)

  1. Sad to hear the news this week that Billy Connolly (mentioned above) has Parkinson’s and early stage cancer. May he live to tell many, many more glorious stories…

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