Friday, January 8, 2010

Five words that should be banished from the communications industry forever...


... then slaughtered, burned, stomped on and salted.

If there's one thing the communications industry should be good at, it's communicating. But whether you're a client, in-agency, or a partner, I'll bet you've encountered these weasel words on more than one occasion. You've probably even used them. Now let's all agree to stop.


I get this one all the time. "Be edgy!" It's not that the word is so bad, it's that everyone has their own ideas and tolerances when it comes to "edge".

To me, edgy means risky. As in, "we might get in big trouble for this". That might involve purposeful political incorrectness, blatant sexuality, political or religious outrage, foul language, or making fun of something people hold sacred.

This ad was on The Ad Graveyard, a old gallery of rejected creative. The accompanying story makes the point quite clearly:

"A slightly less graphic but still controversial advert by the same individual which showed a girl with a pierced tongue and a number of other facial deformations was run instead, all in an attempt to show the "wild side" of Alteon's gigabit routing technology. One suspects that the rejected advert was simply a little too wild for the marketing department's tastes."

Were you offended by the bare breast, the use of one of the most intimate aspects of motherhood to sell technology, or simply because it's completely random? Take your pick. But someone considered it "edgy" and someone else considered it "inappropriate".

Just ask WWF...


I'm a writer, not a smith. But the worse problem here is this word's use as a verb. When someone says I need to "wordsmith" the copy "a bit", they're just saying that they're not happy with the copy, but they don't know exactly why. Unless I know exactly why, I can't really do the specific revisions, edits, or rewrites they should be asking for.

It's a meaningless word that makes what I do for a living seem like something vague and superficial. And it doesn't lead to better copy.


Tweaking refers to fine-tuning or adjusting a complex system, usually an electronic device.

Tweaking is also a repetitive or ritualistic movement, posture, or utterance seen in people with physical and mental disorders.

In advertising, design and Web development, excessive requests to do the former often lead to the latter.


One of our industry's most abused words, "dynamic" seems to now mean "garish, animated, energetic and/or cool". It's particularly confusing in the digital world, where "dynamic" has a very specific technical definition.

If you think the creative is powerful, say so. But if giving constructive feedback, "make it more dynamic" is neither precise nor helpful.


The Oatmeal covered this best:

Have a great weekend. And don't forget to forget these words by Monday.



  2. make it 'sexy' is one that makes me want to poke eyes out... especially when it's anything else but.

  3. I thought all my twitching was actually fixing my ads! Seems I was just tweaking the wrong way...

  4. Love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.
    Great article and discussion!
    online marketing

  5. To me the word 'edgy' is the biggest problem. A friend of mine in school uses it to describe anything and everything that he does. In one brief he wrote 'edgy' probably 15 times...of course when I did the editing I took them ALL out. Bottom line is that we just need a new word to replace 'edgy'...!

    'Pop' I have heard from my teachers, but I usually ignore most of what they way.

    Tweak is another word that my peers use, although no one has ever told me to tweak anytihng...yet!

    Excellent thoughts Tom. I always enjoy reading your blog.