Digital’s language problem

If online wants more brand money it needs to talk like advertising not Wall street.

…language can also corrupt thought.  – Orwell

Two words never used in advertising or media before the rise on the Web: performance and optimize. Not Ogilvy nor Burnett nor Draper ever uttered them. Apple’s 1984, The Man in the Hathaway Shirt, Clairol’s Does she … or doesn’t she?, VW’s Think Small – none of them had their performance optimized. Brand advertising is about story telling, narrative if you prefer academic sounding jargon, not about tuning.

But in online advertising we have a stunted vocabulary. It is a language devised by engineers who have only a binary understanding of what advertising can or should do. And it is confusing. We use the language of response marketing universally to discuss both tactical and brand. But the two are mutually exclusive. Orwell would recognize this immediately. Language shapes our sense of reality.

Response rate VS CTR

There is a form of advertising that is about tuning of course, Direct Marketing. But the language of direct mailers and infomercial producers is human language. They talk about Abandonment, Affinity, house holding, Lifestyle etc. etc.

And here is the disconnect. In online, we all want to talk about brand advertising. Brands mean prestige. More important, brands mean margin. But we only have clumsy language borrowed from finance which has it on loan from auto racing.

Ever read – or worse, heard – something like this: Real-time bidding allows buyers to target audiences at the individual impression level across the exchange’s vast inventory of premium content, while leveraging a dynamic pricing model to optimize campaign spend.

Leveraging dynamic pricing? Whaa?

When it is impossible to distinguish high frequency trading from media buying, there is a problem. Brands do not speak like this. Derivative traders do. Engineers do. But not CMOs. Not brand managers.

Correct, precise language is serious. To quote from an excellent post titled: Is Imprecise Language Hurting Your ROI?

The Scottish mathematician Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson called numerical precision “the very soul of science.” In business the final numbers are very often dependent on how precise we are with the language when defining our numerical or financial goals. As such, linguistic precision, to appropriate Sir D’Arcy’s words, is the very soul of marketing.

If you don’t have the right words, you can’t describe it correctly.

Digital needs to move past the IF click THEN sale understanding of advertising. For brands to move to the internet we need much more than increased efficiency of ad unit delivery.
 There is more alchemy at work in branding than engineers are comfortable with. Product, creative execution, channel, segmentation, they all work together and it takes time.

The dirty 6: digital vocabulary brands do not need:

  • Real-time:
    Brands do not operate in real-time they operate in longer cycles – three, six, twelve months.
  • Optimization:
    You don’t optimize narratives
  • Performance:
    Save it for quarterly sales reports, tactical campaigns.
  • Engagement:
    Real engagement is needed but when digital marketing says the “E” word, we mean clicks.
  • Impressions:
    The worst thing to happen to advertising maybe ever.
  • Clicks:
    A cynical and inadequate substitute for visibility.

Find a complete list of terms brands don’t need on Digiday.

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