I was getting downloaded on some new deliverables that’d be coming into the shop soon, when suddenly I had an epiphany: It seems that folks in advertising and marketing have lost the ability to communicate simply.
Somewhere on the road to ideation and proprietary Brandilization™ processes, agency folks collectively decided that the only way to gain respect amongst the legions of management consultants and branding gurus was to imitate their BS.
We speak a very unique language in our meetings and daily interactions. It’s a mash-up of business double-speak and artistic self-importance. And some of the terms are simply laughable. For example:
“Killer book” - A killer book is neither a “killer” nor a “book.” It’s a great portfolio. Calling it a “killer book” doesn’t make the work any better. A biography of Charles Manson is a killer book. A bomb-making manual is a killer book. Your portfolio isn’t one.
“Buckets” - Sometimes, during a brainstorm, the downpour of ideas becomes such a vast pool of genius that someone needs to mop it all up and place it into a number of “buckets.” Hopefully without spilling any of that brilliance.
“Widows” and “Orphans” – More morbid terms. Real-life killers often leave behind many widows and orphans. You’d think a so-called “killer book” would have lots of widows and orphans. But if you’re a designer, your work can’t be killer if there are widows and orphans.
“Brief” — Never seen one that was.
“Loyalty program” - Sorry, there’s no such thing. I save 30 cents off a gallon of milk at Kroger because I have a plastic card on my keychain that says I’m a member of a “loyalty program.” Nice discount, but it doesn’t make me loyal. Any store that’s cheaper, closer, or better will get my loyalty, at least for the day.
“Viral” - I don’t know who first looked at their marketing budget and said, “Now, if only we could be as successful as AIDS or herpes. Let’s do something the great unwashed consumers could spread without more media dollars.” And alas, viral marketing caught on. No actual viral campaign has spread quite like the mere concept of doing a viral marketing campaign has. There are even people who refer to a viral campaign’s “infection rate,” defined as the ease at which it can be forwarded and spread. I’m developing an immunity to viral marketing. I suspect most consumers are, too.
“Change agent” – Change doesn’t need an agent. Or an advocate. Most people don’t like change. But things just change, whether you like it or not. Go with it.
“Direct marketing” – This is a cute euphemism for “junk mail” or “spam.” Somehow it’s more directly targeted to me because my name is on a list of double-jointed, PBR-drinking cable subscribers. Your emails and junk mail may have my name directly inserted into them, but they’re still mostly auto-generated, and I throw them directly into the trash. Why is it that a 4% response rate on a direct mail piece is terrific? Directly speaking, it’s usually because the creative is crap.
“Thought Leader” - Back in high school, if you told people you were cool, you weren’t. Same goes for calling yourself a “thought leader.” If you have to go around telling people you are one, you aren’t.
“Deliverable” - Actually, this is a bad one. A really bad one. Agencies aren’t paid for their thinking, or to propose ideas that might improve a client’s business, like beefing up customer service or retraining employees. No, ad agencies get paid for deliverables, like a pizza parlor. Would you like a direct mail piece with everything in it and extra logos to go? Because you can bill a client for that deliverable.
People are under the impression that it’s more indicative of gravitas to use polysyllabic terminology to underscore the imperative nature of an initiative. But it’s not. If you spend any portion of your day in meetings or presentations, then you’re accustomed to hearing doublespeak. The problem is when it becomes a game of one-upmanship. Someone in the room uses jargon, then it’s up to someone else in the room to either agree with what’s been said, or increase the level of BS.
How do you let the air out of a roomful of windbags? There are two good ways.
When somebody says something so confusing, so intentionally pointless, give them a quizzical look and say, ”Huh?”
And the other one, when someone uses overwrought language to explain the most simple of ideas, or says something painfully obvious, just reply with a happily sarcastic “Duh!”
Those two words will say a whole lot more than any marketing doublespeak ever could. Try it. Who knows, you may find an breakthrough, actionable way to cut through the clutter at your next ideation engagement.
If you enjoyed this column, read Danny G.'s earlier take on adspeak, On Killer Books and Hard-Hitting Executions.