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noun [uncountable]

when an original idea or plan is repeatedly changed until it becomes less interesting and unique than it was first intended to be

'That's a sure path to "vanillacide" – when nobody can agree on anything truly radical and cool, so it gets diluted and diluted until it's acceptable and utterly boring.'

Fast Company, Issue 38, August 2000

Have you ever had what you thought was a really good, original idea, and then had the experience of well-meaning but cautious people making 'slight changes' or 'alternative suggestions' to such an extent, that it becomes the most uninteresting, 'so done before' concept you can possibly imagine? For instance, you're arranging your friend's hen party and decide on a weekend in Brighton, with designer shopping, clubs, restaurants, fireworks over the Royal Pavilion and swimming in the sea at midnight. Before you know it, there are so many 'what-ifs' that you end up booking a table in a local curry house that you've all been to many times before … If this scenario rings bells with you, then you're well on your way to understanding the concept of vanillacide.

there is a growing trend of conforming to expectations and 'playing it safe'

Vanillacide is most often used in business contexts, where it refers to the scenario of new and creative proposals undergoing a series of changes in order to make them generally acceptable to people, but in the process becoming so 'watered down' that they lose their original individuality and appeal. The term emerges from the observation that in business circles there is a growing trend of conforming to expectations and 'playing it safe', meaning branding, products and services become increasingly bland and standardised.

If you're presenting a set of proposals and want to avoid succumbing to vanillacide, an alleged strategy is to include one or two 'wild cards' – wacky, totally outrageous suggestions which are so likely to be rejected that people will then compromise in other areas and accept alternatives which might otherwise have been regarded as too 'daring'!

Background – vanillacide

The term vanillacide was coined in 2000 by Steve Manning, Chief Executive Officer at Igor, a branding agency in the US. The expression is a blend of the adjective vanilla in its modern sense of describing something as ordinary and lacking in any special or extra features, and the suffix -cide, which denotes an act of killing, as occurring in nouns such as suicide, homicide etc. The productive suffix -cide has its origins in the Latin forms cida and -cidum, which relate to the verb caedere meaning 'kill'.

Unlike vanilla, which can simply be used to show that something is of a standard variety, vanillacide always has disapproving overtones, suggesting that something has become unnecessarily conformist and 'bog standard'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 19th March 2007.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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