How not to “bring it to life”

Nick Lo Bue
3 min readJun 7, 2021

Everybody has their trigger words or phrases — those words or phrases that make you want to shake your head, roll your eyes, or projectile vomit. For most, it’s things like “literally”, or “calm down”, or in the parlance of the times — “mute yourself.”

I’m convinced that I have more trigger phrases than most, and I’m also convinced that my inwardly-facing response to them is fueled by an unhealthy amount of rage. I’ve learned to get over them (not really). Here’s just a few phrases that, in most work-related contexts, make me cringe:

  • “We’ll figure it out.” — Who is this “we” you speak of? Cause it sure doesn’t include you.
  • “I don’t understand.” — How is that my problem? Next time, try “Help me understand…” instead. I’d be happy to walk you through it.
  • “I like…” — Are you the target customer? No? Then I. DON’T. CARE.
  • “Awesome”, “Amazing”, “Remarkable”, “[insert immeasurable egregious superlative here]” — While these are great responses, they can’t be the only responses.
  • “We’ll recoup the costs later.” — Which really means “Everyone but me will work 80-hour weeks for the next few months.”
  • “It doesn’t ‘wow’ me.” — Jay Pritchett knows what I’m talking about.
  • “Always” or “Never” — Rarely is anything binary.
  • Honorable mention: most of the words and phrases in those ad agency bingo cards.

But the one phrase that takes the cake for me… the one that I may not be able to type without throwing my keyboard against the wall…

“Bring to life.”

Really? Is it dead? Does it need mouth-to-mouth? Do you have an automated external defibrillator I can borrow? (Yes, I had to Google “shocking paddle thingies” to find out what they are actually called.)

~~~~ deep breaths ~~~~

I get that the phrase is a metaphor. But it’s also meaningless and entirely subjective. It can’t be measured. It can’t be verified. It’s lazy.

I’ve been quite vocal about my opinions regarding this phrase, yet it seems to be gaining more and more popularity in my industry. I keep a count during meetings. Folks on my team, when we’re on the same Zoom call together, will ping me in Slack to make sure I caught each usage. Trust me, I caught it. I’ve heard the phrase used six times in a 30-minute meeting. I’ve heard it used nine times in a 60-minute meeting (8, if you’re a purest — someone said “breathe more life into it”). I’m beginning to wonder if my colleagues are using this phrase just to mess with me…

I see it everywhere. In client presentations, in RFP’s, in taglines, in brand guidelines. I’ve even seen it in contracts. Yes, in contracts… do you really want to get into an argument with the Client’s procurement officer whether or not we met our obligation to “bring it to life”? Or better yet, would you want a judge to decide when “life” begins? (Yes, I’m still referring to the design context, of course.)

As my gift to the world, I’ve created a list of viable bring-to-life alternatives. Depending on the context, I’m confident that you’ll be able to find a better option Enjoy:

  • influence the customer’s actions
  • make it more engaging
  • realize your goals
  • make it actionable
  • achieve the desired objectives
  • increase its effectiveness
  • delight the customer
  • introduce some visual interest
  • inspire the audience to take action
  • meet/exceed the customer’s expectation
  • carry out the KPI’s

A couple things you may have noticed about these examples: 1) they don’t rely on subjective phrasing, and 2) many of these alternative phrases reflect the actions and expectations of the customer.

Exactly.

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