Opinion

The 10 most annoying phrases in marketing

Each year we ask Michael Sugden, CEO at VCCP, to take stock of the most irritating vocabulary fails of the industry. This year he takes on the most annoying phrases to have been adopted by our industry over the past 12 months.

Brent-like: The 10 most annoying phrases in Marketing 2015
Brent-like: The 10 most annoying phrases in Marketing 2015

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"There may be no 'I' in team, but there's a 'ME' if you look hard enough".

"Some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue".

"If you can keep your head when all around you have lost theirs, then you probably haven't understood the seriousness of the situation".

These are some of the phrases immortalised by David Brent, arguably the world’s most famous office worker. We love to hate him because of his misuse of clichés and metaphors. Yet are we any different to the great man himself?

In recent years the use of marketing clichés, metaphors and analogies has ballooned. For purveyors of ‘meeting bingo’ this is only good news. For the rest of us, meetings have degenerated in to a quagmire of nonsensical verbal piffle.

It’s time to take a stand and expose the 10 most annoying phrases in marketing.

10. Think outside the box: is this the original marketing metaphor that sparked a generation of clichéd mumbo jumbo? Invented by management consultants in the 70s its infamy alone warrants inclusion. This hardy perennial is still used remarkably often.

9. I may have a window for you: I don’t need a window. Or a door. Or any other prefabricated building materials. I just need some time with you.

8. Content is king: I’m amazed people can still say this with a straight face. This vacuous statement was on the road to obscurity until it was rekindled with an equally annoying addition: ‘if content is king, distribution is queen’. So that’s cleared that up then.

7. Let’s not boil the ocean: a highfalutin way of suggesting that something is too ambitious or complicated. In case you’re wondering it would take 5.58072E+30 joules of energy to boil the ocean.

6. Level playing field: if you went to Kinellar Primary School you would know there’s no such thing as a level playing field. Most matches were decided by which team played downhill in the second half.

5. Let’s workshop this: three words that strike fear in to any busy person. Many a day has been murdered by these dreaded words. And for what? A few garbled Nobo board scrawlings that some poor soul has to spend another day typing up.

4. Shift the dial: aka ‘move the needle’. I really don’t know what this means, answers on a postcard please. When deployed in meetings however it often stimulates vigorous bouts of synchronised nodding. It must be good.

3. Let’s socialise this: aka ‘Let’s cascade this’. Closely related to ‘let’s touch base’. Once upon a time it was called ‘talking’.

2. Fail forward: a phrase used to describe the laudable Silicon Valley ethos of learning from failure. I fear however its meaning has been lost in translation. Yes it sounds progressive but when things go wrong this side of the Atlantic someone usually gets an old school Anglo Saxon kicking.

1. Growth hacking: first coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 the term has rooted itself in to the marketing lexicon like Japanese knotweed. Remarkable considering nobody seems to know what it means. Sounds cool though. And that’s why I hate it, along with other misappropriations like food hacking, life hacking and home hacking. Let’s be clear- adding the word ‘hack’ does not make something edgy. It’s the marketer’s equivalent of my 9 year old boy dropping his Ts. It’s not cool, you just sound silly.

So why has this jibber-jabber taken root in our working lives? My suspicion is our subconscious is at play. We use these phrases to make the obvious and straightforward sound cerebral and exciting.  After all, if you talk in a forthright manner you sound like you’re from Yorkshire.

In 2016, I for one promise to abstain from using clap trap phraseology. And I invite you all to follow. As an industry, let’s run it up the flag pole and see if we can move the goal posts. If we all sing from the same hymn sheet and hit the ground running, it could be a game changer.