They keep using it. It does not mean what they think it means:
No, not “lubricating,” although I’ll get to it in a bit. First, though, I want to talk about “servile.”
Yes, consumers are more demanding, time-starved, informed, and choice-saturated than ever-before (we know you know). For brands to prosper, the solution is simple though: turn SERVILE. This goes far beyond offering great customer service. SERVILE means turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.
Is that in fact what “servile” means? No, it is not. Unlike most Trendwatching lingo—keep reading for examples—“servile” is a real word with real definitions and connotations. It isn’t a neutral term meaning “of service”; rather, it means “abjectly submissive,” “slavish,” “relating to servitude or forced labor.” Its synonyms are “obsequious,” “toadyish,” “sycophantic,” and “fawning.”
Not a positive association in the bunch. Indeed, the strong whiff of slavery that attends “servile” should disqualify the word from the marketing lexicon. It’s an adjective best reserved for Uriah Heep, one of Dickens’s least admirable characters, and others of his ilk.
Trendwatching—which calls itself “one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms”—has a decade-long record of coining attention-getting names, many of them peppy portmanteaus, to describe marketplace phenomena. Back in October 2010, the company devoted a trend briefing to what it called Brand Butlers. From what I can tell, “Servile Brands” is just a more offensive twist on “Brand Butlers.”
You can’t accuse Trendwatching of not trying. Its trend archives include a heap of isms—Newism, Maturialism, It-ism, Foreverism, and Nowism—and a river of sumers: Tasksumers, Twinsumers, Citysumers, Trysumers, Sellsumers, Transumers. Trendwatching has also given us Minipreneurs and Teenpreneurs*, Insperiences and Cribtimonials, Perkonomics and Excusumption,
Trendwatching’s motto might as well be “X Is the New Y.” One trend briefing was titled “Catching-up is the new looking ahead.” Brand Butlers: “Serving is the new selling.” Nowism: “Why currency is the new currency.” And Servile Brands? “Why for brands, serving, assisting, and lubricating is the new selling.”
(A few words about “lubricating”: Back in 2004, Trendwatching used “daily lubricants” as a category title for “the fast growing class of products and services that cater to consumers' need for simplicity, and that literally lubricate daily life.” Um, OK. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of “lubricating” and “servility” can’t help sounding slightly smutty.)
Once in a blue moon, Trendwatching coins a term that catches on: Pop-up Retail (first used in January 2004), Massclusivity (November 2003). But for every one of those keepers there are 20 clunkers like Snobmoddities.
As for Servile Brands, off the top of my head I can think of several catchy-yet-more-appropriate alternatives: At Your Service, SuperServe Us, Serves You Right. Or, if they wanted to stay with the portmanteau theme, Servantage, Serveriffic, ServeAce, or Servalicious.
But “servile,” no matter how much you lubricate it, sticks in the craw.
* See more -preneur blends in my “Enterprising Language” post.