EVERY January I hand out prizes for the finest examples of business jargon spouted in the past 12 months. These Golden Flannel Awards have proved so popular that I've decided to leverage the concept and roll it out across a more comprehensive universe of consumer touch points.
So today I am creating a July award to be given to a CEO for Outstanding Services to Bunkum. The winner must be a big business name who is equally adept at using guff for exaggeration, euphemism and obfuscation, and for conveying fake emotion. Above all, they must never use a simple word when a longer one will do.
For the past few months I've been poring through CEO statements from annual reports and other public pronouncements and have finally made my choice. There was a brief moment last week when I wobbled and considered giving the prize to Bob Diamond for his resignation announcement, which was shot through with "world class", "franchise", "customer-focused" and windy hype about his "extraordinary talented management team".
But good jargon must be obscure and Mr Diamond's message was crystal clear. It could be summarised in three words: "It's not fair!"
While this new award is to be meritocratic, the maiden winner happens to be a woman. She is Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry and a living legend in a trenchcoat. Her words speak for themselves. Here are some of them, from the latest Burberry annual report: "In the wholesale channel, Burberry exited doors not aligned with brand status and invested in presentation through both enhanced assortments and dedicated, customised real estate in key doors."
This meets the most important criterion for jargon - it is utterly impenetrable. What are all these doors? Has Burberry acquired Travis Perkins building supplies? And what is an enhanced assortment? As for all those other words - channel, aligned, enhanced, dedicated, key - they are all clichés, but to put so many of them together in such a short space takes great skill.
The full statement is rich in mysterious three-word terms straight out of buzzword bingo: "seamless brand experience" (did you know that brands, like stockings, can have seams?), "digital trunk shows" and "synchronised product presence".
Equally mysterious is what she has to say about communication and how she has set up "governing bodies that pair seasoned executives with the next generation of talent (a council to dream)". Is she suggesting that old and young sleep and dream together? Surely not.
What clinched it for me was a soft interview Ahrendts gave recently to her PR company's magazine, in which she expanded on her idea of "democratising luxury", and how everything was teamwork in which she insists on "removing self" and "neutralising egos". Like the best guff, this has an agreeable ring to it but turns out to be a partial view of reality.
As far as I recall, Burberry went to great lengths to disenfranchise the so-called "chavs" who were deeply attached to its tartan, which wasn't very democratic. And it might be all about the team - but then Ms Ahrendts pocketed £16m last year, which suggests a bit of ego creeping in somewhere.
The only words I could easily understand described a service that I can't comprehend. It allows you to design your own, super pricey raincoat, which Ahrendts says offers "over 12-million combinations and the most luxurious of features". Given how stressful I find choosing between the black dress and the blue, the idea of 12-million choices doesn't strike me as progress. This isn't democracy. It's lunacy.
In a way it is odd that the first winner of my CEO prize should be someone thoroughly successful. You might think that talking guff was the prerogative of the unsuccessful, a useful trick to hide the blemishes. But as luxury is all about selling things at wildly inflated prices, it may make sense to have some wildly inflated language to go with it.
There is another, simpler story she could have told in the report: profits are high because an inexplicably large number of newly rich consumers in not so democratic China think it sensible to spend £5000 on a designer bag, or more than £1000 on a raincoat. But that story does not have quite the right ring to it, which is where doors and dreams and digital trunks come in.
The Burberry boss has aligned balderdash and brand. She deserves my prize.
© 2012 The Financial Times Limited