Once, when something was brilliant, it really was brilliant. It was splendid, magnificent.
A George Best goal was brilliant. Peter Sellers was brilliant. An Aston Martin DB6 was brilliant.
Lives were brilliant. In his book “Brilliant Creatures” author Howard Jacobson traces the footsteps of Australians Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and Robert Hughes and their influence on the cultural revolution in 1960s Britain. It was a time when “every life became a brilliant breaking of the bank” according to Philip Larkin in Annus Mirabilis.
The brilliance of brilliant has since dimmed. Over use has reduced the word to mean any mildly pleasing or underwhelming news — “are you ready with your order? Brilliant!” Laced with sarcasm it conveys disbelief. Basil says in exasperation to Sybil in Fawlty Towers: ‘Oh, brilliant!! Brilliant!! Is that what made Britain great? ‘
So it makes one wonder why ‘brilliant’ is currently enjoying such voguish popularity in the world of branding and advertising.
It started a few years ago when HTC, the Taiwanese mobile phone maker, launched a new brand campaign to noisily tell the world how “Quietly Brilliant” it is.
Marriott Hotels followed up with a rebranding campaign created by Grey urging us to “Travel Brilliantly”.
Harman, the audio technology company, is now warning us to “Expect Brilliance”.
And Hyundai has joined the parade with “Live Brilliant”.
With all this sudden brilliance it feels like I’m living in a Harry Potter movie.