Buzzwords: Our best defense in the AI revolution

Much of the language used in our industry resembles the sun. Not in the sense that it is a source of life-giving radiance, but rather that it hurts the eyes if looked at for too long.

The brain hurts too, if we try to understand exactly what is meant by “thinking outside the box” or “cross-pollination.”

As such, we let these things slide, meetings pass by with nothing really being said, buzzy phrases exchanged until someone, suddenly, becomes “conscious of time”.

Everyone leaves satisfied. Ish. It’s easier to let the words glide their way in one ear and out the other, because deciphering anything of substance would require some serious mental gymnastics.

It’s hard for us, but imagine the challenge for a robot.

We’re talking a lot about artificial intelligence and machine learning, and with good reason. Much of what we do is ripe for automation in digital marketing.

Any rules-based system, such as those which govern the Google or Facebook bidding auctions, will inevitably be handled more efficiently by an algorithm.

Incorporate unsupervised machine learning and backpropagation in there and you’ve got a pretty sophisticated system that only improves over time. We won’t beat the machines with our arithmetic abilities, that’s for sure.

However, we are giving ourselves a little too much credit if we think this level of statistical analysis has ever formed the fulcrum of a day in marketing.

By now, we shouldn’t really be working 50–60 hour weeks, with all the technology we already have at our disposal. I should have that robot butler I was promised so many years ago, I should be zooming around on my jet pack. And yet, I work.

However, cold, hard cash is not the only currency we care about. The satisfaction of a 3 hour meeting stuffed to the brim with pleasant-sounding, meaning-vacant metaphors cannot be replaced so readily.

So if the sentient machines really want our jobs, they’d best get to work on their vocab. For any robots out there reading this, I’ve included a few of my favorites below. At times of need, they have always been there for me. Without them, you’ll never replace any digital marketer worth their salt.

“Data Driven”

If there are any further thoughts, we’ll take this one offline.

The claim to be “data driven” has always been nonsensical (was there a time when people made decisions without the aid of information?), but it is beautiful as much for its inherent lack of significance as it is for its dogged persistence in our lexicon. The machines are as data driven as we are, but are they brazen enough to state such a self-evident truth as though it were a selling point?

“Left-Brain, Right-Brain”

Anyone who believes this perhaps does have only half a brain. It is certainly true that specific functions reside mainly within separate hemispheres of the brain, but in truth both sides of the brain are involved in all vital processes. We’re all capable of being creative, analytical, empathetic and so on. Actually, we are creative enough to come up with mumbo jumbo like the image below, of which I am sure we have all seen a version in pitch decks:

As factless as the theory is, it serves a purpose. We all kind of get what it’s trying to say, but it also flies in the face of reality. Perfect meeting material, then.

“Content is King”

The truth rarely gets in the way of a good story, and machines tend to be sticklers for hard facts. We’ll need a lot more of these images if we want to befuddle our robotic pals for the foreseeable future.

Textbook stuff, marketing cat-nip. Bill Gates was perhaps the first to use this one all the way back in 1996, but that hasn’t stopped us trotting it out in meetings right up to this day as though it had some form of urgent, essential meaning.

Before the 90’s, were we all taken over by a baroque fascination with form? Were commercials just empty vessels containing nothing of note? Actually, don’t answer the latter.

No machine is going to be able to figure this one out, so we need to keep it going.

“Low-Hanging Fruit”

Bonus points for anyone that has jazzed this one up with the addendum: “But distribution is queen, and she wears the trousers.” Just accept it, don’t think about the image, and it is a thing of beauty. You can let your brain (both sides) take a little vacation when this one comes up in a meeting.

Good luck, robots. This is a stone cold classic of the genre, simply defying logic and interpretation with a carefree abandon we can only aspire to.

For me, it has always conjured up an image of Tantalus, of Greek mythological fame, reaching for the fruit but simultaneously sinking ever deeper towards his demise.

It appears to mean, in marketing milieux, something relating to a short-term opportunity. One can never be sure, although I have observed its usage in the wild as a synonym for the equally vacuous-but-wonderful “quick win”. You’d be a fool to go to a meeting without at least one variation in your verbal armory.

Those are my favorites, but just ping me if you can think of any others. I’d be keen to pick your brain.