Douchebaggery in Marketing

By K Portuondo

Hello, America.  A few weeks ago, I was warmly welcomed to speak at two AAF luncheons in the lovely Louisiana towns of Lafayette and New Orleans. I could choose any topic I wanted that relates to marketing. When I sent them a list of options, their good-humored group responded enthusiastically to “Douchebaggery in Marketing: How Words get in the Way of Good Work.” They even designed a a beautiful poster for the event!

Read on or flip through the Slideshare presentation to learn why marketing jargon is problematic and to get some tips on how to fight it.


There is so much bad advertising out there. Why? I believe one of the reasons is the way we talk to each other. Marketing communications requires a lot of communication to plan and create. Clients working with agencies working with vendors, each with their own set of acronyms and branded “proprietary processes” and favorite buzzwords often leads to misunderstanding, confusion, frustration and time lost. All of which become obstacles to teams making good work.

Are we making a program, a platform or a campaign? To some, those are synonyms. While to others, the definition of those words have important differences that make them distinct. Even the word “mobile” can cause confusion. When a client asks for a plan that “includes mobile” — do they mean advertising on people’s mobile devices or for mobile sites and apps to be built? Does mobile include tablets? Often, these conversations aren’t had openly because there is a pressure that comes with buzzwords. If you don’t know what it means, you’re not “in the loop.”

On the bright side, it seems that unnecessary jargon is an age-old problem many in the industry are aware of. It’s most fun to understand the issue by looking at the many mockeries and in-jokes we’ve made of it. Sites like,, @industryjargon and have catalogued and parodied the worst offenders in buzzwords. Those of us working in strategy tend to fall into word traps especially easily, leading to briefs with language that is far from straightforward or real. The Wheat Thins sponsortunity on the Colbert Report is a great example of this:

There are three simple rules you can follow to be better about saying what you mean in the workplace:

1. Pretend like you’re talking to your mom

Don’t make assumptions. Your mom doesn’t know what CPG stands for. She doesn’t know about transmedia storytelling or propagation planning. And it’s not because she’s not a smart lady. She’s just not entrenched in industry BS. It’s good practice to talk to people from other agencies and even disciplines in plain language that someone like your mom would understand.

A great example of this are the recent conversations about the word “user” and “consumer.” Sometimes, people are just people. Not “momfluencials” or “citysumers.” Just people. Stripping out jargon according to this rule will result in more than just better words. Think of how helpful a segmentation or persona document would be if we stripped out the cheesy Getty Images and fake “quotes” and embraced the blurriness and bad grammar of real photos and tweets.

2. Ask the tough questions

If you’re holding yourself accountable for avoiding jargon, you might want to do the same with the people your are working with. Don’t be afraid to ask what things mean rather than secretly looking them up on Wikipedia later. When a meeting is going around in circles, it might be time to stop and ask the room to define what exactly “a big idea” or “responsive design” means to them. While there may technically be a correct definition for terms like this, many times it’s unclear or subjective.

3. Get on the same page

Getting rid of buzzwords completely may be an impossible task. Especially working on big projects with hundreds of stakeholders. Sometimes, the words don’t matter. As long as everyone’s speaking the same language. A good place to start is to acknowledge when words are getting in the way and do a little something about it, like making a glossary for the front of a big presentation or spending the first 5 minutes of a meeting agreeing to semantics.

Marketers are always talking about humanizing brands. Let’s start by speaking to each other like humans.

We’d love to hear the worst words you’ve heard and any other tips you have for avoiding jargon takeover. For the full Slideshare presentation, see below:

Douchbaggery in Marketing by Karina Portuondo from Big Spaceship


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