Calling Things “Dead” is Dead

Todd Brison

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9 years ago, marketing was dead. 7 years ago, guest blog posting was supposed to be in the grave. Art died 5 years ago, according to one comedian. 3 years ago, outsourced IT allegedly went down. Netflix needed to “pull off a miracle” in order to have any hope of survival only 2 years ago. (I guess it did because The Queen’s Gambit was delightful.)

In 2020 plenty more got dropped in the coffin: the modern office, the micromanager, the 8-hour workday, the commute, the whole of New York City, America itself, and — terrifyingly — objective truth. Also, Mailchimp.

We are one month into 2021. Already we’ve seen one particular cryptocurrency steal the scene with a jaw-dropping surge in the market… only to be almost immediately pronounced dead when it stopped going up. Unsurprisingly, Robinhood has been declared dead for its shenanigans last week.

Dead is a bold word. That’s why hyperbole-happy headline writers snatch it up so fast. Proclaiming that “Facebook is dead” gets attention. And since attention is awarded over accuracy, of course you’d go for that word.

The problem is… well, most of these articles could have replaced the word “dead” for “dealing with a slight problem.” The issue is almost always overhyped.

Everyone who chooses to use the word “dead” in a headline should be also required to publish a disclaimer like the one Better Marketing released to clarify

Jared A. Brock’s series on tech giants:

“My goal with this series isn’t to convince people that any given company is bound to fail tomorrow, but rather to point out WHY some of these companies will soon be in sharp decline, so that today’s marketers and tomorrow’s startups can begin thinking, planning, and reallocating their time and money accordingly.”

So it’s a prediction to help marketers. Fair enough. But it’s exactly that: a prediction. One argument. One angle. Jared is writing a series on tech giants that may die. This means he is looking for reasons to prove that claim, not disprove it. The article does not mention Facebook’s Marketplace, Groups, or Watch features, core reasons people stay on the platform.

I have angles too. I’m ignoring certain definitions of “dead.” A tree can be dead and not fall down for decades. That means describing a failing business as “dead” is not misleading.

Not misleading, but pointless. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Every business dies. It’s just a matter of time. And nobody sticks around to find out when or if such prophecies come true. The doomsayers point out problems. We readers look for talking points so that we can sound smart at parties. The business in question adjusts. Then, we do it all again next week.

Try as it might to divide the world up into dead or alive, red or blue, black or white, bad or good, evil or virtuous, canceled or redeemed, the new media often fails to remind any of us that the world is a nuanced place. Nobody knows anything, but it’s darn near impossible to resist pretending that we do.

Remember that next time you’re reading through headlines.

Better yet, remember it when you’re writing them.

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