Room 101: Marketing jargon to bin

26 July 2023

There’s so much jargony, and empty noise in marketing. And most large corporates have their own suite of impenetrable acronyms to complicate matters further.

5 min read
Room 101: Marketing Jargon to Bin

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Room 101 was a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love. Less heavily, the term ‘Room 101’ has residual connections in UK culture from a comedy series in which celebrities are invited to consign their most detested objects or ideas to oblivion.

I’d love to see a reincarnation of this for marketeers and researchers, where we vie to ban all the worst marketing language and notions. Perhaps hosted by Rob Mayhew – give me a shout, Rob, if you’d like to discuss. 

There’s so much jargony and empty noise in marketing. And most large corporates have their own suite of impenetrable acronyms to complicate matters further. This can add a little spice to briefing calls - which reminds me of university tutorial days, where one of the most important lessons we taught ourselves was how to bluff. That’s to say, how to avoid revealing how little we really knew.

In briefing calls in today’s working world, I am sure I am not the only one who occasionally finds themselves wondering if it’s ok to question what a certain acronym means or if I’ll reveal myself as a fool who has not grasped some major corporate concept.

The jargon needs a bit of a look – it’s often a sign of process and function over human experience and even a triumph of systems over proper thinking.

But when you move past all those acronyms, it’s clear that the language that marketing loosely throws around today has a bigger problem. 

And that is: it’s empty, transactional and not fit for purpose in the world in which we find ourselves living. The language that we need to consign to Room 101 has a few key contenders that believe the fact that marketing as a discipline is becoming out-of-step with our profound societal, economic and environmental challenges. 

Let’s start with the most obvious one: ‘consumers’. This one isn’t hard to ban, surely. Yes, I understand that ‘customers’ as an alternative can cue a business audience. But there is another language. We are all people, after all. I’m yet to discover my cat accidentally buying something on my Amazon account.

The problem with consumers is perhaps quite obvious, but in case not, I’ll explain. It frames people as existing in order to consume. But global consumption norms are irreparably damaging our planet. Businesses are increasingly needing to reinvent their business models – for example, exploring services instead of selling more ‘stuff’, looking into repairability, second-hand markets and building more durable devices.

The second term I’d argue to ban is ‘community’. Various studies show loneliness rates are rising across a number of countries*, and this is correlated with worsening mental health. Brands often like to project that they build communities, but often all this really means is creating groups of mouthpieces for the brand – of people who can be sold to more readily. Communities are often transactional and superficial online environments set up to try to manage marketing budgets more efficiently.

Yes, of course, there are brands that create real communities with true human engagement – and provide platforms (online or offline) for more meaningful connections. But those are far fewer than the brands going about talking about their ‘communities’ while, in truth, just pushing their products and messaging to a self-selecting subset of their customer base. 

On a related note, while it’s not a term I think we can consign to Room 101, I think we need to take a long hard look at how we use the word ‘loyalty’. Of course, there is true brand loyalty out there, and some brands are highly effective in fostering it and keeping it alive. 

But many more talk about loyalty when what’s really happening is that people are tending to favour your brand. The reflection in the purchase process is often not as deep as brands would like to think. This takes me back to the adage that people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are. The same applies to brands – for the most part, people just don’t know about, think about, or care about them as deeply as marketeers and research professionals often believe. 

And lastly, we come to one of the most problematic words today – sustainability. It means everything and nothing. It’s used with abandon and washed over with supposedly ‘eco’ and ‘green’ fakery. It’s used so often it’s lost any real meaning. Of course, sometimes, it’s simply hard to avoid. Sometimes it’s legitimate – in the right context. But it should be used with much greater care as we all get wiser about greenwashing.

And it’s more than that. Sustainability, like ‘consumers’, suggests a comfort with the status quo of unconstrained consumption. To sustain means to keep something as is. But we can’t keep going as we are – we need radical reinvention. We increasingly recognise that we need not growth, collectively, but degrowth. We need different and hopefully better ways of living. 

So back to the Room 101 comedy show for marketing – give me a few days while I work out a brand key for the proposition, and turn it into a VPC, and then I’ll circle back to you all so we can brainstorm it and work out our CTA. BRB. 

Louise McLaren
Managing Director at Lovebrands