Marketing Language

How to Advertise With Authenticity (Or At Least Look Like You Are).


Right now, authenticity is one of the buzziest buzzwords in the business world. It’s generally taken to mean some nearly ineffable combination of transparency, realness, genuineness, legitimacy and honesty. Some people believe that a lack of authenticity did fatal damage to a recent presidential candidate’s shot at the White House (do not send me emails about this). And it’s a quality that the consumers most marketers consider most valuable – those born roughly between 1976 and 1996 – absolutely require in the brands they engage with.

Of course, I’m talking about millennials, those undeniably savvy consumers who’ve grown up with instant access to troves of online information about brands and products and with perfect awareness of themselves as a target market. They know marketers are always trying to sell things to them and they know that most of those things are not going to fundamentally change their lives or make the world a better place, so let’s not pretend that they are.

See, at the same time Millennial consumers crave authenticity, they categorically reject marketing messages that are deemed “too earnest”, perceiving that as a sign of either cluelessness or cynical duplicity (this is one place that Pepsi’s ill-conceived Kendall Jenner commercial went off the rails, but only one place, and enough has been said about that already).

So where does that leave a marketer who needs to demonstrate the authenticity, the legitimate realness of his or her brand without getting too earnest or serious about it? How, for example, do you create something as patently synthetic and deliberately mercantile as a TV commercial that doesn’t set off Millennials’ hyper-sensitive bullshit alarms?

This Looks Like A Job For Metamessaging

One way to do it is with a technique that I’m calling metamessaging. Forgive me for piling onto the “meta” bandwagon but in this case the term is apt. The prefix “meta” comes down to us from Greek through Latin and connotes beyond, above or transcending whatever term follows it. In literature, meta usually refers to something that refers back on itself or, more specifically, something that pokes fun at the conventions of a genre.

So, in advertising, metamessaging refers to ads that poke fun at the conventions of advertising as a way of demonstrating that we’re all on the same side of the table, here.

Since everything is artificial, let’s make the artifice apparent.

There’s a trend afoot in television commercials with the underlying message, “Look, you know we’re trying to sell something. We know you know that we’re trying to sell something and, finally, you know we know you know we’re trying to sell something. So let’s drop all pretense. We won’t even attempt to surreptitiously establish an emotional connection between our brand and you, the viewer. We’ll discard all those traditional, rhetorical tools like pathos, ethos, empathy, story arc, character, setting and all of that stuff.  After all, those techniques are innately untransparent and inauthentic.

“Instead, we’ll make a connection by admitting, in fact, demonstrating, that this is a commercial, and that we know you know it’s a commercial. See, we’re not stuffy, old conventional marketers. No! We’re all in on the gag together. Now, don’t you love us?”

It’s the advertising equivalent of actors “breaking the fourth wall”, stepping out of their hermetic onscreen or onstage environment to address the audience directly (Think of Frank Underwood’s asides and soliloquies in House of Cards and do not send me emails about Kevin Spacey).

Here are four commercials that illustrate the trend. They each use metamessaging in slightly different ways, but they each proclaim loudly and proudly, This Is A Television Commercial And We’d Be Sincerely Grateful If You’d Consider Buying Our Stuff. They’re all running currently, as I’m writing this.

AT&T “More”

AT&T Grab 2

The spokesman who’s standing too close to the camera thinks he’s standing too close to the camera.

Demographically diverse, attractive and sharply dressed spokespeople slowly fill the shot, one by one, each making a different sales point about the “moreness” of AT&T’s offering. They address the camera until, around 00:15, one guy drops the Transparency Bomb by blatantly referring to himself and his onscreen colleagues as spokespeople and promising you even more spokespeople to come.

The denouement comes from the last spokesperson who’s so close to the camera that he’s not even fully visible. “I think I’m too close,” he says, acknowledging the presence of the camera and the fact that he’s mostly out of frame. We are truly though the advertising looking-glass.

Sprite “Vince Staples/Random Teenagers”

Sprite Grab

You know this is a Sprite commercial. And we know you know it’s a Sprite commercial. So let’s just have a big sign that says Sprite Commercial.

This commercial, featuring rapper Vince Staples, comes out of the gate presenting its advertisement bona fides. In fact, you need a scorecard to check off its numerous meta references.

(1) The setting actually displays the words The Sprite Commercial on a giant sign.

(2) This is clearly directed at the 12 to 18-year-old demographic who drinks fructose-sweetened carbonated soft drinks, but just to make that abundantly clear, Vince greets another actor with, “Hello, random teenager.”

(3) As an actor begins his oh-so-familiar “guzzle shot”, to the accompaniment of some corny music, a huge wave of liquid washes over him, representing instant refreshment. But wait. This clichéd sequence is interrupted by Vince, setting up the closing product shot.

(4) “Make sure they see that logo”, Vince says. “Right there, into the camera.”

(5) Finally, Vince announces. “OK, the commercial’s over” as the scene cuts abruptly to blackness.

There’s no hidden agenda here, consumers. Not one bit. This is a Sprite commercial that’s all about Sprite commercials. Get it?

Xfinity xFi Wi-Fi “Dinnertime”

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 3.18.42 PM

Hang on a second, voice guy. See, we all know that we’re living in an Xfinity commercial so there’s nothing odd about speaking to an off-camera man.

This commercial for cable provider Xfinity’s xFi Wi-Fi service starts out looking pretty conventional. We see warmly convivial families gathered around dinner tables through the ages as a voiceover describes dinnertime as a time for family connections. Around 00:15, we arrive in the current day and see a family at a dining table, “connecting” via digital devices and ignoring one another completely.

At this point, mom looks off camera and asks the disembodied announcer to stop talking, “One second, voice guy.” The announcer hears mom and obeys her request (very meta) and she uses her own smartphone to pause the family’s Wi-Fi signal, forcing the family to talk to one another in person.

In my unsolicited opinion, this is an excellent commercial. Metamessages aside, it presents a relevant, human benefit based on a unique product feature in an entertaining and engaging way. It’s also the only ad I can think of that pitches the ability to turn off the advertised product as an exciting and unique attribute.

Nationwide Insurance, “Peyton Manning/Brad Paisley/The Jingle Sessions”

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 3.29.19 PM

Brad Paisley sings “What did I just get into”, to the tune of “Nationwide is on your side”. It’s meta piled upon meta.

I’ve saved the most meta for last. It’s not just a commercial that acknowledges it’s a commercial for a brand. It’s a commercial about the jingle for a brand. The “Nationwide Is On Your Side” jingle was introduced 48 years ago and it’s so ingrained in the American psyche that Nationwide and their ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather, believe all that’s required to drive home their brand’s message is to reference that famous, seven-note phrase.

In this ad, former quarterback Peyton Manning (who’s been in so many different commercials that he’s practically a metamessage unto himself) gives singer Brad Paisley helpful input on how to render the jingle, “in your heart”. There’s never a mention of anything about Nationwide, no attempt to differentiate the brand from dozens of competitors. It’s just a single, musical phrase, repeated over and over and over and wrapped in some amusing bro-banter.

Does Metamessaging Work? Insight From A Sample Of One, Certified Millennial

 As I was writing this, I had the opportunity to bounce the premise off a millennial friend (who’s not in the advertising or marketing business). The only one of these commercials she remembered seeing (they’re all running currently, as of mid-November, 2017) was the AT&T spot described at the beginning of this article. She’d only seen that one because it had run in the New England Patriots versus Atlanta Falcons football game the previous Sunday. And she only saw that because football games are the only conventional television programming she and her friends watch with any regularity.

She did have an opinion on the AT&T commercial. She liked it a lot. She described it as “Brash and nervy” because, “It pokes fun at the same thing I’d poke fun at. It’s preemptive fun poking. We’re all sharing the joke. It’s sassy.”

My friend gets it because AT&T gets it. The commercial worked for her precisely because it acknowledged, without the slightest trace of earnestness, that it was selling cellular service and pounding out more and more features with more and more self-acknowledged spokespeople.

But did it work as a persuasive message? Probably not exactly the way AT&T would hope. Here’s the rest of my friend’s review:

“Commercials may help with initial introductions, to see what’s out there in a broad sense (like browsing through a dating site and throwing out the dogs). But I always need some real, unscripted voices behind the things I buy. If I was looking for new cell service, I’d look at Reddit or other sites for reviews. Maybe ask some friends what sucks about their carriers. But even a cool commercial wouldn’t sell me. This specific commercial just didn’t annoy the crap out of me.”

So, metamessaging is one way to “not annoy the crap out of” our audience. I hope that isn’t the best that advertisers can hope for in the long-term. But it may have to do for now.



How does your brand taste?

Why every single brand of detergent, insurance, refrigerator, light bulb, motor oil, plant food, semiconductor, investment counselor, industrial robot manufacturer, disposable dust mop and galvanized roofing nail needs “taste copy”.

When I was a young copywriter I had the privilege of working on several Anheuser-Busch beer brands (to be clear, I was one of a small army of copywriters and art directors sharing that privilege). One of the great parts of that job was attending Beer School, where we learned about the magic of beechwood aging, what several tons of hops and malted barley smell like (delicious), what a barn full of Clydesdales smell like (also, surprisingly delicious) and the difference between lager and pilsner

One of the not-so-great parts of that job, at least to a young copywriter’s way of thinking, was being forced to internalize the sacred mantras of the Anheuser-Busch brands’ “taste copy.”

Each A-B brand had a set of words – mostly adjectives – that were used to describe the particular flavor of that particular brand. Budweiser was always “distinctively crisp and clean.” Michelob was always “smooth and mellow”. Michelob Light was always “rich and smooth.”

Those words were to appear in that order in every piece of communication, whether it was a TV commercial or a coupon ad. And woe betide the high-spirited, creative puppy who took it upon him or herself to “improve” on that copy.

Of course, at the time, being high-spirited, young creative puppies, we rankled under these rules. Wasn’t it our job to push hard against this boundary? Wasn’t it our duty to rend and sunder rules like these?

Processed with VSCOcam with s6 preset

Every Anheuser-Busch brand had a set of pre-approved adjectives that described that brand’s unique taste. This “taste copy” was sacrosanct

In fact, no, it wasn’t.

Especially not if we ever wanted to see our work produced. So, we all grumbled and made dark, cynical jokes and “crisped” and “mellowed” until our fingers grew numb on the gray keys of our beige IBM Selectrics.

Whether they tasted “rich and smooth”, “smooth and mellow” or “crisp and clean”, as a young copywriter, Anheuser-Busch’s mandatory taste copy made me nuts. As a not-so-young branding strategist, I find it not only darned smart, but an idea that’s well worth stealing.

So, flash forward a few decades and witness this former, high-spirited creative puppy beseeching clients to work with their researchers, planners and creatives to craft, agree on and enforce the “taste copy” for every brand.

Taste copy for every brand of what? Every brand of everything.

As young creatives, all we could see was that the fascistically-dictated taste copy prevented us from stretching our creative wings and describing Michelob as “brisk and refreshing.” What we didn’t see was all the good things the taste copy did:

  • It stopped territorial squabbles between client-side brand teams before they could even start. Budweiser owned crisp and clean. Michelob owned smooth and mellow. Period. There was nothing to discuss. Dismissed. Go sell more beer.
  • It streamlined the work because nobody at the agency or the client got bogged down reacting to focus groups’ opinions about whether or not Michelob Light really tasted “rich”. It did. It said so in the taste copy.
  • And, perhaps best of all, at least from a pure, marketing standpoint, the taste copy enforced consistency of message across all media. And this is where the concept becomes especially relevant today.

Back when I was pecking out the fifteenth variation on This Bud’s For You, “across all media” pretty much meant TV, radio, outdoor and print. Now it means all that plus web, earned, viral, social, guerrilla, buzz and body art. Which is terrific. But since creating content for each of those media can conceivably be handled by a different set of people, enforcing a consistent description of your product, what it does, how it works and what it stands for begins to look a lot less like creative handcuffs and a lot more like common sense.

Please. Use the handcuffs.

Your features are fungible and your price can be undercut. The only aspect of your brand that can’t be copied is the connection it has with your customers’ hearts and minds.

The harder trick, of course, is to create the right “copy” – I’m using that term in its loosest sense, to mean the core message that pins a brand in the heart and mind of its intended buyer – that not only appeals to the senses, but also to peoples’ need to make emotional connections with the brands they buy.

It’s not easy because people are not necessarily willing to admit (in many cases they’re not even aware) that their choice of an insurance company, light bulb or analgesic is making a critical emotional connection for them. But finding those connections – or, more specifically, finding where there may be a lack of connection and crafting your brand to make one – is the most important job marketers have in this world. Especially when competitors can steal your features and undercut your prices faster than you can say “Mexican Outsourcing Partner”.

So, by whatever means possible, discover the emotional connections that your brand can make, craft your “taste copy” accordingly (commercial: one real good way to accomplish this is to hire us to use Motiv to create an Emotivation-based Message Architecture for your brand. Ok, end of commercial), then enforce the use of that copy with draconian ruthlessness. Demand to see it everywhere your brand is written about and to hear it each time your brand is spoken of. Defy anyone to “improve” it.

And if, by chance, somebody does come up with something better, well, buy them a beer.

Everything is political now. Quick, how does your canned tuna vote?

Part 2 in a (so far) two-part series on Marketing And The Culture Wars.

Do you ride with Uber or with Lyft? Do you shop at Nordstrom? How about T.J. Maxx or Neiman Marcus? Will you serve your family food from Wegman’s? Or have lunch at Chick-fil-A? Do you exercise in Under Armour or Nike? Your choice could mark you, at least in some peoples’ eyes, as an America-hating Trotskyite or a deplorable, gun-loving xenophobe.

While the politicization of every single aspect of our lives may be annoying or even amusing to regular folks, it’s a minefield for marketers. In most of the aforementioned cases, a political position has been thrust onto those brands. They didn’t get to choose their side.

Atlanta-based fast feeder Chick-fil-A has always leaned right, and it’s occasionally gotten them into hot water (nevertheless, Chick-fil-A recently passed KFC as America’s #1 chicken chain). But what about Wegman’s, a Northeast regional supermarket with the highest customer-satisfaction numbers in the industry and revenues to match? They’re catching heat from liberal shoppers because they sell Trump-branded wine (they’ve been carrying it for nine years).

Ditto Uber, which got crosswise with the same kind of consumers when they lowered prices in response to a strike by The New York Taxi Workers Alliance. The taxi drivers joined a protest at JFK airport against President Trump’s immigration order and Uber executives saw an opportunity for a win-win. More people would ride Uber to JFK at a reduced cost. But left-leaning citizens immediately launched #DeleteUber, a social media outcry calling for people to purge the offending brand’s app from their smartphones.

Out, damned right wing, fascist, hate app!

“Out, damned right wing, fascist hate app!”

Lyft execs, no doubt sensing the direction of the political winds, racked up righteousness points by announcing, via an email to all of their customers, that the company would donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.

We don’t have a dog in this fight (unless somebody makes us).

Marketers have historically tried to keep their brands politically neutral. It wasn’t too difficult. Until recently, it would’ve been hard to assign a particular political position to a can of soda, a credit card or a smartphone app. But, given our current political climate, that’s changing fast.

Marketers don’t talk about it out loud, but traditionally, if your brand was forced to pick a side on a cultural, social or political issue, it was usually safer to err toward the progressive side. You don’t need to convince conservative consumers that American business is a force for good in the world. But if you’re, say, a Big Oil Brand, you might want to convince liberal-leaning consumers that you’re not utterly evil by pointing out how you’re investing billions erecting windmills, turning pond scum into fuel and combating malaria.

All that is true, and big oil brands make sure we hear about it. Professional activists wail about greenwashing and virtue signaling, but there aren’t enough of them to make much difference to brands with broad audiences. Even if it were just a matter of optics (and it’s not – big oil companies invest huge amounts in renewable and alternative energy), big brands like Shell, Hewlett Packard, Citibank and GM would still have a strong incentive to engage in liberal rather than conservative activism.

It’s what you might call asymmetrical righteousness.

Conservatives may smirk and roll their eyes when a big oil brand promises to build windmills and reduce pollution, but a fair number of progressives believe that our continued use of fossil fuel is dooming civilization. America’s Chevy Suburban drivers are not going to storm Chevron’s headquarters if it invests a few billion bucks in making gasoline from soybeans. But America’s Subaru drivers might very well do so if it doesn’t.

“Next stop Houston, boys. We’ll teach those craven pantywaists from Exxon to mess around with alternative fuels!”

The same kind of asymmetry happens in social issues, too. Progressives drove the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, out of his job for donating $1,000 to an organization that opposes gay marriage. But conservatives will never try to hound Tim Cook out of Apple for supporting the same issue. For the Right, gay marriage is a moral and political controversy. For the Left, excluding homosexual couples from the institution of marriage isn’t just wrong, it’s deliberately evil.

All of a sudden, left isn’t always right.

So, it’s always made sense for marketers, when forced, to lean slightly to the left. At least until recently. In my last blog post I wrote about the conservative group, One Million Moms, who works to drive content it views as family-unfriendly from television. One campaign encouraged consumers not to buy Nature Made vitamins until the brand stopped sponsoring the “deviant and anti-Christian” show Teachers. Who knows how the people who run Nature Made actually feel about the issue? Nobody. But they pulled their ads, thereby tacitly affirming that the Right is right.

“Take that, you lefty-coddling wussy retailer. See if I ever buy another St. John suit from you!”

In response to then-candidate Donald Trump’s infamous remarks about grabbing women, a pair of women who describe themselves as “a brand strategist and a grandmother” launched #GrabYourWallet. It’s a social media movement that encourages people to boycott retailers who do business with the Trumps.

Perhaps in response to #GYW’s efforts, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and T.J. Maxx have all removed Trump-branded merchandise from their shelves. When in doubt, lean left. Right?

Not so fast.

A crusade that seems to have sprung from Washington, DC’s affluent Northern Virginia suburbs is mobilizing conservative women to march into high end department stores and present the managers with shredded store credit cards. The reason? Said Mary Carson of Vienna, Virginia to a Nordstrom manager – a retailer who had removed the Ivanka Trump line of shoes from their stores, reportedly due to poor sales, prior to the inauguration – “You all really are the best store in the area. It’s a shame you couldn’t keep your mouths shut about our president.”

Consumers aren’t just expressing their vexation by boycotting particular brands. There’s a lot of “protest purchasing” going on, too. It turns out that all that detestable Trump wine has been flying out of Wegman’s. And, as of today, Ivanka Trump’s perfume is the fastest selling fragrance brand on Amazon.

Marketers can try to stay apart from the political, social and cultural rumpus and hope that it blows over soon. But the smart ones will have plans in place to deal with the seemingly random events that can force a brand to pick a side. Famed advertising man Bill Bernbach is said to have said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.”

To which a lot of marketing directors might reply, “A principle isn’t a principle if I didn’t pick it.”


Money Talks. And Sometimes It Yells, “Shut Up!”

Part One of an (at least) two-part series on Marketing and the Culture wars.

On January 8, 2017, The New York Times published an article in the Sunday Review section with the title How To Starve Online Hate. In it, writer Pagan Kennedy (great name) describes how Nathan Phillips, an environmental science professor, visited the right-wing website, Breitbart News, for the first time, just to see what all the recent fuss was about

Breitbart Headline: Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy

On the website he was surprised to see an advertisement for Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, the very grad school where he’d gotten his degree. Why would an environmental science program willingly spend money to advertise on a website that’s famous for denying climate change?

Breitbart Headline: Climate Change: The Greatest-Ever Conspiracy Against The American Taxpayer


Right wing website Breitbart News

The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t. Anybody familiar with how programmatic online ad placements work will understand how something like this can happen. People don’t buy online ads, algorithms do. Even the most major, mainstream marketers often don’t know exactly where and when their ads run (don’t get me started).

By letting his alma mater know, to their surprise, exactly where they were spending some of their advertising dollars, Professor Phillips became one of a new form of activists. In the past several months, a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants has sent screenshots to more than 1,000 marketers whose ads ran amidst “hateful” content. More than 500 of those advertisers – including some sizable, mainstream marketers like Lenovo, Novo Nordisk, Chase, Clarins and Visa – have pulled their ads from those websites.

Naturally, there’s been all sorts of entertaining hullabaloo over this, with loyal readers of sites like Breitbart News threatening to boycott marketers who pull their ads and people on the other side of the argument pledging to buy more from brands who refuse to give ad money to the perceived bad guys’ websites.

One Million Moms, a conservative group dedicated to fighting back “against the immorality, violence, vulgarity and profanity the media is throwing at (our) children”, has been using a similar strategy for years, calling out marketers who run ads in media that promulgate what they perceive as undesirable values.

One Million Moms campaign against indecency in the media

One Million Moms campaign against indecency

One Million Moms Headline: Urge Red Lobster To Pull Sponsorship From Impastor

In some instances, they take issue with the ads themselves, such as a Zales jewelers commercial depicting two women exchanging wedding rings and vows.

One Million Moms headline: Zales Attempts to Normalize Sin

Whether your sympathies lie with the Giants or the Moms, any true capitalist has to acknowledge that this is exactly how the world should work. To the venerable five P’s of marketing; Product, Price, Place, Promotion and People, we’re going to have to add a sixth P, Principles. From now on, a brand’s principles are going to have to at least appear to align with those of the people it wants to sell to.

If your detergent brand stands for cleanliness and wholesomeness, how can you justify paying to place an ad on a violent TV show, or a sitcom that features a sexually active pair of seventeen-year-olds? If your car brand stands for safety, then explain why you give money to a website that makes marginalized groups feel unsafe.

It’s going to be up to individual marketers to decide how to wrangle this. Can you afford to alienate group A if it gets you more business from group B? Can you message to group X and hope group Y doesn’t find out?

More and more, marketers are going to be forced to take sides in the culture wars. It won’t be comfortable, but it will be interesting.


How To Starve Online Hate
Pagan Kennedy
Nathan Phillips
Breitbart News
Nicholas School of the Environment
How programmatic ad placement works
Sleeping Giants
One Million Moms
Zales Jewelers Love and Pride Collection

Here’s something sort of infuriating.

When did “sort of” become something people say all the time? I heard a neuroscientist on NPR yesterday and he must’ve said “sort of” a couple of dozen times during a 30-minute segment. He actually said “…so the old brain sort of says ‘eat those cupcakes right now because fat and sugar are scarce’ and then the new brain sort of says ‘well, I’ll only have one…”.

And those weren’t even the most egregious examples.

I hear this over and over. I’ve even heard colleagues tell prospective clients about how “we use a proprietary research technique to sort of figure out why people make decisions” and then “sort of turn those insights into ideas.”

We don’t sort of do that. We really do that. I’d think clients might feel a tad diffident about paying us to sort of deliver some results.

We’ve always had “ya know” as default conversational padding. But I think that’s just an innocent, if irritating, verbal tic. “Sort of”, and it’s almost-as-insidious brother “kind of”, seem deliberately weaselly. It’s as though people are reluctant to make a definitive statement they can be pinned down about. Is this right? Are people just more prone to waffling than they used to be?


Please, somebody help me understand where this came from. Why do obviously very smart people who know exactly what they’re talking about feel the need to dilute their pronouncements this way?

Really, I’d sort of love to know.

Ban these words and phrases for at least the next five years.

Yesterday (Friday, March 14, 2014, that’s Pi Day)  I posted a list of annoyingly abused words and phrases on Facebook and, holy cow, people I haven’t seen in fifteen years started weighing in with their own ideas about overused and irritating verbiage. By the end of the day we had assembled a definitive list of terms that must be banned and banished, if not forever, then at least for a while.

To wit:

Amazing (For the luvvagod, please, please find a new adjective. And why does everybody have to sound like a fourteen-year-old girl when they use it? “Uh-MEEEZ-ing.”)

Authentic (Do you mean crude, unprocessed, unedited, uncurated, unimproved, just simply spewed forth in raw form from some fundamental source? I’ll pass. Thanks.)

Artisanal (I saw a plastic package labeled Artisanal Lettuce in a grocery store a few days ago. It’s a plant. It grows out of the dirt. Unless scientists are “crafting” the genome of this stuff in some wonderfully, special way, there’s nothing Artisanal about it. I can’t imagine we need any further proof that this term is now absolutely dead).

Passion (This was a cool and transgressive word between 2009 and 2012. Especially in the business world. I’ll admit to getting some mileage out of it myself. Now, every schmuck’s got a “passion” about something. I just saw a commercial for Lindor proclaiming their chefs’ “passion” for chocolate. It’s made in a big factory, folks. Ditch this word immediately.)

Spot On (I know, that’s two words, so I’m doubly weary of it)

Decimate (unless you actually mean “to kill one out of ten”, and you can’t decimate objects, you can only decimate groups of people, sheesh!)


Literally (When you mean figuratively or metaphorically. That quinoa was not so good that you literally swallowed your tongue. You’d die.)

Innovate and its demon-cursed sister-word Innovation (Again, I’ve milked this one myself. But it’s time to give it the double-tap behind the ear. And it’s a shame, because it’s a real good and useful word that’s just been abused into meaninglessness.)

Wait for it…


World Class

Thought Leader (And, by the way, you don’t get to call yourself a thought leader. Somebody has to confer that title on you. But it’s still stupid. Don’t use it.).


At the end of the day…

That said…

Pivot (Just say “start over”. Please.)

Awesome (Even nine-year-old-boys don’t say this any more because it’s just that passé.)

So that’s our list, created by a couple of dozen “creative professionals” of various stripes. Oh! Wait! I have to add a term.

Creative (This is worthy of a post all its own. It may be one of the most abused terms in the business world. For now, use it very cautiously. Be thoughtful about what you label “creative”.).

Does anybody have anything to add? “Input” is welcome. There’s a term I love. “Input”. A more honest label would be “interference”.