Coworkers, I’m Begging You To Stop Using These Words

Dear coworkers,

It was in a recent brainstorm when one of you (name withheld) uttered the phrase “viral video,” and I was triggered enough to finally write this. Here we are, marketing professionals in 2018, using the same tired phrases that the rest of the industry uses. We’re better than that!

From now on, let’s consider the following words and phrases BANNED from briefs, brainstorms, and everywhere else.

Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “Let’s make a funny video for Twitter”
  • Why it’s problematic: Funny is a subjective term — it could mean anything. Do you find the Big Bang Theory funny? Do you think those Charmin™ bears are funny? “Funny” is a vast wilderness for the creative team to get lost in.
  • Instead: Be specific about what kind of humor we’re aiming for, and give examples. Words like “quirky,” “dry humor,” or “utterly ridiculous” are helpful, and remember that what we find funny might not be what will make our specific audience laugh.
Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “We’re looking for a robust campaign that will catch the attention of toilet-paper-buying Moms worldwide.”
  • Why it’s problematic: Can we please only use “robust” when talking about pasta sauce? These words are a given anyway. Has anyone ever asked for weak or forgettable creative?
  • Instead: Let’s use more targeted words about emotions. Can “strong” actually mean “aggressive?” Are we looking for “unexpected” or “shocking,” or “so vile that Charmin™ toilet paper is all that someone can think about when writing for their company’s blog?” Think about what we want the audience’s reaction to be, and use those words to inform our team.
Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “I have a viral video concept involving toilet paper that’s going to get us on Ellen.”
  • Why it’s problematic: “Viral video” is like ”winning lottery ticket” — it’s an unlikely and unpredictable end-state. Sure, we can put paid behind something and boost impressions, but the internet is capricious, flaky and easily distracted.
  • Instead: Aim for shares or completion rate, because virality has no formula and we can’t guarantee it (unless our client has a boatload of cash). Plan B (for less cash) is to make something low budget and so terrible that it goes viral. See here and here for examples.
Illustration: Alex Mos

“Low-hanging fruit”

  • Example: “Cutesy cartoons are low-hanging fruit for Charmin™ toilet paper audiences.”
  • Why it’s problematic: Low-hanging fruit usually translates to “we think this campaign is going to be easy and cheap.” This sort of thinking doesn’t inspire the troops. Or our audiences.
  • Instead: If the premise of our brief is obvious (this is almost never actually the case), then writing a brief full of insights should be a breeze. But let’s stop minimizing the work that’ll go into even the most “obvious” campaigns, and instead challenge our teams to do something unexpected with creative.
Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “We really want a campaign that will disrupt and shift the toilet paper conversation on Twitter.”
  • Why it’s problematic: Words mean things, right? Even overused words like “disruption.” In the agreed-upon Clayton-Christensen sense, products, business models, and platforms are disruptive. Marketing campaigns? Eh, not so much, unless you change what the word means.
  • Instead: Let’s aim for “unexpected,” or even “fresh.” Think about how we can stand out, provide something new, and use other people’s conversations to advocate for the brand.
Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “We need four snackable video vignettes for Twitter, focused on the Charmin™ Mama Bear.”
  • Why it’s problematic: It sounds tasty but actually makes everyone want to throw up. Please do not compare content to a snack.
  • Instead: Of course someone will want to “consume” our content. If we’re using it to describe length, say “short.” If we’re using it to describe content, use “engaging.”
Illustration: Alex Mos


  • Example: “We’re looking for a holistic campaign that will hit the Charmin™ audience across relevant channels.”
  • Why it’s problematic: Holistic is a problem word everywhere now (holistic lifestyles, holistic diets, holistic medicine, etc.). This word is just so oversaturated that it means everything and nothing.
  • Instead: Sure, holistic can make sense when you’re talking about having a range of channels and executions that all ladder up to the same brand goals. The problem starts when “holistic” means “try everything and see what sticks.” Instead, our briefs should hone in on the key message and distribution that can get the best results for our budget.

Listen, I know it’s hard to break habits. I’ve 100% percent let most of these words dribble out of my mouth during a pitch. But growth is all about change, amiright? So let’s just try our hardest to drop these words by the end of 2018.

Thanks, love ya,