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Changing the Language of Marketing

April 2018

One thing I’ve always loved about a life spent in media and advertising: like lawyers, you learn a lot about everyone else’s jobs. Sometimes you even learn more about a company than the employees who work there.


One thing I’ve noticed repeatedly over the past 25 years: every industry is plagued with terminology and jargon. Sometimes it’s necessary (deep sciences), other times it is to instill a sense of elitism and prevent others from fully understanding it (taxes, law), but even in these cases, there are movements to end this.


Should we change the language in our industries to be more inclusive? I say wholeheartedly, yes. Several years ago, I ran Digital for Campbell Ewald and had the good fortune to meet a brilliant strategist named Arthur Mitchell. One of the smartest folks I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something; I’ve worked with admirals and nuclear physicists.


When pitching Kaiser Permanente, Arthur told them something to the effect of, “Whether you hire us or not, there’s three things you need to do.” One of them was change their language.

Well, Kaiser did hire Campbell Ewald and did change the language. Not just making it easier to understand their HMO, but even the visual language. No more doctors holding clipboards. They showed healthy lifestyles instead, leading to one of the most timeless campaigns ever: Thrive.


Arthur was right. We need to change the language of almost every industry.


I’m starting with ours.


Digital marketing is fraught with impersonal, technical terms, and fluffy adjectives that sound impressive, but mean nothing. We call site visitors “users.” No. Drug addicts are users. Randomly going to a website does not qualify as an addiction.

New Language

As part of our mission to craft a better web, here are my suggestions for improving our language.


Brand and Site Architecture

We talk about sites and brands as being like a house. If we invited a friend over to our house, would the organization make sense to them? Would we be providing for their needs? Or would we be embarrassed about the mess and clutter? Would we apologize for spiders in the basement, and the leaky roof?

Target Audiences

No more target audiences. How about viewing them as friends? We’d certainly treat them differently, and less as numbers. In an age where Facebook is selling us out, despite promising early on, “We don’t sell your data and never will,” treating customers as close friends seems like the best option. Only complete ingrates or sociopaths would mistreat their friends.


No more users; they’re guests, visitors, friends.



No. Decks are for grilling on. It’s a presentation. Arthur hates this one as much as I do.



We aren’t geo-targeting; we’re respecting they want to be found.


Optimizing for SEO

Are we optimizing for organic search, or are we simply ensuring our friends can find what they’re looking for?


Staging Environment

This is really just a private version of your site for testing. Call it that. Staging environment sounds like we’re getting ready for a Broadway production.



Sites shouldn’t be sticky. We didn’t leave strawberry jam on them. They should be enjoyable.

What language does your industry use that you can’t stand? Could your relationship with your clients be improved with better language? How? Leave a comment and let us know.

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