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Clap traps

Clap traps

Claptrap is another word for nonsense.

It is derived, not surprisingly, from the words clap and trap. It is a trap set to draw you into applause when none is warranted.

A clap trap lures you into being impressed when you really shouldn’t be.

A clap trap is an ideological smoke and mirrors trick. Lots of oohs and aahs, but no real magic.

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, claptrap’s use in common parlance peaked in 1938 before declining steadily to the end of the 20th Century. It held steady from 2000 to 2008, which is as recent as the data gets.


Use of "claptrap".
Use of “claptrap” from 1800 to 2008.


Whilst the use of the word “claptrap” has declined, it feels like the use of clap traps is on the rise.

The use of language which is meant to sound impressive, but which really isn’t, is on the rise.

Ideation is a clap trap.

“We held a series of ideation sessions,” is meant to sound more impressive than, “We talked about it and thought about it for a while.”

It isn’t.

Architecting is a clap trap.

“We architected a solution,” is meant to sound more impressive than, “We came up with an idea.”

It isn’t.

These phrases are a used as a cloak shield, masking an inferiority complex, in an attempt to mean business. But they have no business meaning at all.

Solutionising is a clap trap.

Engagement is a clap trap.

Growth hacking is a clap trap.

Brand ecosystem is a clap trap.

The world of marketing has gone clap trap crazy.

We set them and we fall into them with equal abandon. We effortlessly switch roles from happy trappers to happy clappers and back again. Clap trapping happens in the round.


The people outside looked from trapper to clapper, and from clapper to trapper, and from trapper to clapper again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

(Apologies to George Orwell.)

There is a clap trap conspiracy in which we are all, to varying degrees, complicit.

Clap traps are seductive. Everyone is using them, so using them is how you get taken seriously, right?

Clap traps are contagious. They are truly viral and they would be a marketing industry success in that respect, were it not for the fact that the marketing industry has only succeeded in infecting itself.

Witness this claptrap from Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy. It is a masterclass in clap trap obfuscation.

Here and there he makes some valid observations and shares some interesting ideas. But he undermines his own credibility with speech writing which is the clap trap equivalent of carpet bombing.

As Gareth Kay said, it was this kind of nonsense, this kind of claptrap, that made him leave the ad industry.

It is sad and it is ridiculous.



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