We’re on a mission at B&C these days. Our goal — to eliminate the word JUST from our vocabulary. This four-letter word ranks as one of the most powerful and underestimated words in English. Michelle and Brooks will take you on a journey of a diminutive word of great power.
Thoughts from Brooks:
It’s my pet peeve when a presenter begins a presentation or lecture with the definition of the word. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that its just cliché. If you’re so inclined, visit Meriam Webster and focus on the adverb.
There is the adjective of just that means what’s right, what’s fair. We very rarely use just without the suffix justice. In its adverb form, there are many respectable uses of the word. But if we’re counting sheer frequency, we just use the hell out of that buried definition: only, or barely, or possibly.
It’s a fine word to convey something small or insignificant, but another synonym could be the current word of infamy, marginalized.
Just is a simple, inoffensive word that we learn as children and it’s one of the first words we use to manipulate others. When a child is told they can’t have something they want, they are presented with a choice — either throw a tantrum or try to persuade the offending party to see things their way and acquiesce. Usually that persuasion includes the word just, like “I’ll just have a little bit of cookie.” or “Can I just have 5 more minutes before bed?” As we grow older we find that “just” can cause something bad to feel less bad. We tell our kids it will hurt for just a little while. We tell our spouse that the convertible was just the result of a mid-life crisis.
We use this word in business all the time. The word can be used manipulatively or magnanimously — but it almost always comes across as a manipulation in the end.
The account management side is notorious for using the word to manipulate our creative cousins. “It’s just a little word change” means that you don’t really need to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about this. Now they (the creatives) are more pliable to my will and I won’t have to defend myself as strongly in a fight. Sometimes, however, we’re not so self-centered and maybe intend to do them a favor. Downplaying the importance of a change can actually set the producer at ease, understanding that this is not something requiring deep thought — something creatives are known to do and can be very challenging and disruptive. It’s a manipulation for the preservation of their contribution to more important things.
But let’s not pity them too much. They do it to us, too. “It’s just a brochure, why do we need to over-think this?” “Just tell the client that I’m right.” Is it their own defense mechanism playing? Probably. Do they really not care? Yes, they do. “I just need one more day.” It helps to lessen the blow that “yeah, I’m not going to make deadline on this.”
Clients are guilty, of just tweaking things a little too….oh maybe I’m stepping on some toes here. When a sentence has been crafted or a logo has been sized, it was done with intentionality and purpose. Just a shade darker, or just a change to that word can make a big difference to the work we’ve already done. How many times have you said, “just do it, already”? You were probably frustrated and just couldn’t see how to get your point across clearly. Just became your manipulation word.
In reality, the word Just just makes things smaller. It makes them trivial. Describing any situation as just can diminish the purpose, the effort, and ultimately the product. We all work hard to put our heart and soul into every aspect of what we do, clients, AEs, and creatives alike. But when we apply the word just, it can have far-reaching impacts.
So what can we do? The word just is most times unnecessary. “Why don’t we just tweak the copy a little,” can be just as effectively stated as “Why don’t we tweak the copy a little to get that little bit extra impact.” The copywriter is spared the potential frustration that their carefully selected diction is viewed as a bunch of Lego blocks that can be tossed into the big bucket in the sky.
Even tag lines can be belittling. Said in the wrong tone, “Just Do It” can be translated as “Quit your whining, little baby, and hit the court.” Whereas “Do It” is empowering. “Coach, what if we run the Blue Thirty Two play?” “Do It!”
Thoughts from Michelle:
On the other side of the office and from the perspective of an art director on the creative team, the word just constitutes the melodramatic sigh and the moment in which our work feels diminished along with the strategy of its execution. Just add an additional logo, just add a few photos to that spread, it’ll be fine. Using this word as a means to lessen the objective and design solution only creates more reason to step back and reanalyze the initial ask. ‘Don’t overthink it… it’s just promotional copy.’
It’s easy to find ourselves in a space where the word rolls out of our mouths, and these days after we’ve said it, we suddenly become more aware of its negative consequences. It begins to have a reverse connotation to our original intent of tone — becoming ‘word vomit’, a sentence that becomes hard to take back once said.
As a test, our office has approached this word with more caution in hopes it will improve the underlying effect it can have on communication, unnecessary tension or stress and ultimately the quality of work produced. As a result, our team has learned a big lesson; the idea that this word isn’t just a word. It’s great power can be used for good as well.
As we let it slip while in production meetings or critique, we essentially become more aware of the outcome we have been subconsciously expressing this whole time. We catch ourselves in a moment of, ‘Oh wait, this may need more time than we originally allocated, it’s not just a quick fix’.
Creatives can learn a lot from this word. If by putting ‘our money where our mouth is’ by implementing tight strategic solutions from start to finish, changes like ‘just change the headline’ can have a heavy impact on a campaign. This word will live as a justification of the efforts made as a team in the circle of production.
As we evaluate our processes moving forward, we know that giving more power to the word can hurt our game but help create a self-awareness of how we approach effective communication in an agency environment. Has your team risen above similar challenges lately? What are some stories of how this word has affected the way you work?
*In multiple attempts to write this piece, the phrase ‘just get it done’, although jokingly tossed around, became the team’s ongoing joke as we continue on in the search of the best replacement of its former counterpart. No words were harmed in the compilation of thoughts for this piece, just creative egos.