The fake tan hoax provides a timely reminder about the persuasive words of ChatGPT

AI has been a gamechanger across multiple industries by helping many professionals take the strain off monotonous administrative tasks. But beware! Misusing AI, or not being cognizant to the way it manipulates content, can lead to embarrassing consequences.

Just ask the team at the Irish Times, who accidentally published an AI-penned hoax article on the use of fake tan, and accredited the piece to a fake journalist with a fake profile picture made on an AI image creation software, known as DALL-E. Despite around 80% of the article being generated using GPT-4 processing technology, the article quickly became the publication’s second most viewed story, highlighting that readers will often take content at face value without probing the greater question of exactly how it has been created.

We won’t wade into the politics of fake tanning, or the current vogue for toning down what might be construed as violent language. In a guide entitled ‘Evolving from Violent Language’, created by author Anna Taylor, a communications director and ‘diversity, equity and inclusion champion’ at technology company Phenomenex, Ms Taylor places “not a bad idea” on the violent list, while offering “good idea” as an alternative.

People it seems should avoid using everyday phrases such as “blown away”, “deadline” and “not a bad idea” because they are overly violent, with ‘jump the gun’, ‘roll with the punches’, ‘straight shooter’ and even ‘deadline’ also on the list.

Our point is that humans can exercise judgement when dealing with highly controversial subjects by manipulating their language choices, exploiting the power of words, constructing carefully phrased copy, and adjusting their tone to be sympathetic towards both sides of an argument – AI cannot!

So to the wordsmiths of the world, live up to your name as said back in 2021!

From columnists and editors to special correspondents and hacks, all of us often go by the simple moniker ‘wordsmiths’ – in itself an interesting portmanteau word that clearly salutes the power words have in the hands of the media.

Words – the lifeblood of politicians and lobbyists – and your business

Political parties and their commentators have always used the power of words – ‘cuts’ versus ‘investment’, ‘inheritance tax’ for the rich, ‘death tax’ hurts us all. Now with COVID comes ‘flatten the curve’, ‘new normal’, ‘super-spreader’, ‘shielding’ and ‘bubbles’. The list goes on.

Time will tell whether ‘lockdown’ and ‘herd immunity’ have good or bad connotations, or whether indeed ‘following the science’ will ever recover now it has been put under a global spotlight on the world stage and we have all seen how fallible science is.

But all these words do more than provide scrabble fodder. They shape our perceptions – about life, about governments, about business.

Words in PR

As a refresher course on effective copywriting for business I recommend a valuable little marketing book by Frank Luntz on ‘Words that Work’. When it comes to PR, the way we use the words also sends signals that shape reader perceptions of our organizations. Here are some quick tips on use of words in your PR output.

Headings speak louder than words

Some words are important, some aren’t. The press release heading, remember, is your two-second opportunity to get a journalist interested – read or trash. The first paragraph needs to tell what’s driving the whole news story in two sentences. A third in exceptional circumstances.

Often clients spend too long on words that no-one other than themselves will ever read – witness the importance some put on paragraph 6 in a press release that a journalist might never get to, while packing their headline with a dog and pony show of themselves by trying to crowbar every idea and buzzword into a three-stack heading.

Introduction one-liners

I recently listened to a journalist from The Economist describing a press release he had received from a company and yet still he had no idea what they did. They described themselves in the first sentence as: the world’s leading full life-cycle data acquisition and retention company for the enterprise globally. Rule of thumb: the longer the introductory one-liner, the more brand trust you lose. The company had lost sight of their brand by trying to differentiate themselves.

Boilerplates – have you just told the world how small you really are?

Here’s another rule of thumb. The longer the boilerplate, the smaller the company. You’re in a competitive market for trust, not for a solution sale. So the boilerplate spells out what you sell, and your success by growth and/or customer spread. Again, three sentences max.

If you have to add a second par into the boilerplate, you’ve just massively downgraded your size in the eyes of your readers. And if you ever feel the need to use a semi-colon, your business skills are definitely doomed. Write a book.

Titles say more than you think

And now we have another rule of thumb to add to the list. The longer or less authoritative sounding the job title, the less important the person – think President, Prime Minister, the Queen which brings us to that all important three letter acronym, the CEO. As a magazine editor I remember meeting a Microsoft executive who explained that he was now vice president, new business markets Northern Europe. I read it that he had no remit, no power and probably soon no job! So I wasn’t surprised when he moved on.

…and now the position of Chief TikTok Officer has been filled!

Rachel Ranosa has more to say in her article on how traditional roles are changing. I quote: “in HR  we now have Chief People Officer or its close cousins, Chief Happiness Officer or Chief Experience Officer. Meanwhile, some roles speak of the future of work. For example, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer”. Officers become Evangelists, others take personal brandings such as “ninja,” “maverick,” “magician,” “guru” or even adding the dreaded “-ologist” suffix.

The question with job titles is what they convey – authority and responsibility or just pigeonhole your company as a ‘type’? Think about it.


Every sea change in the world brings a new vernacular – portmanteau words such as chillax and permaculture have entered our lexicon, driven by increased awareness of stress and sustainability. They can be used to lobby feelings – when the gambling lobby sought to create a more positive public image, it changed from ‘gambling’ to ‘gaming’ – when a group of influential scientists threw doubt on ‘global warming’, the lobby conceded and ‘global warming’ became ‘climate change’.

But some things never change, and as my final parting shot, here are some well-worn words that really get up journalist noses. I mean really, is your client truly ‘pleased/excited/proud/thrilled/honored/delighted/happy to announce’ anything? 😊

Judith Ingleton-Beer is CEO at IBA International.

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