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Agency Doublespeak

December 11, 2009  

If there's one thing marketers know how to do, it's to make things sound better than they actually are. Consider a drink often requested by Paul Williams at Starbucks—that purveyor of infinitely customizable beverages: Iced, tall, no-shot Americano.

Even if you know how to decode Starbucks lingo, you might still be lost. So here's his explanation: "A

n Americano is a shot of espresso with water in it (It can be a tasty alternative to a typical cup of coffee). Ordering it: iced (with ice, that's easy), tall (that's a medium), and a no-shot Americano would be no espresso, just the water. So it ends up as a medium, iced water."

Williams uses his barista-stumping wordplay to set up an entertaining chart borrowed from The Bluffer's Guide to Marketing. It helpfully translates what your agency is really saying during those pitch meetings, and you might recognize doublespeak like this:

  • "It blew their minds in research" should be interpreted as "Consumers think the product is crap."
  • "It'll work in the press" probably means "They can't afford television."
  • "Look how we really build on your existing property" doesn't include the qualifier "But we had to level it first."
  • And "The Agency view is..." a nice way of saying "We don't agree."

Your Marketing Inspiration comes in the form of a question from Williams: "[B]y saying one thing, is your agency really meaning something else?"

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  • by KB Fri Dec 11, 2009 via web

    A tall is actually a small. Grande is a medium.

  • by Paul (from Idea Sandbox) Fri Dec 11, 2009 via web


    Actually... I'm "old school" Starbucks. Before the Venti existed... The sizes were:
    - short (small),
    - tall (medium) and
    - grande (large).

    Then Venti came around... that is the big gulp. Starbucks - shifting customers to larger-sized drinks and higher price points - took the short (small) off the menu.

    You can still order a short... Kid's hot chocolate comes as a short.

    So, yes... I see how with out the short size in the mix... The small becomes the tall, and the grande the medium...

    Thus, making it all even that *more* confusing!

  • by Paul McKeon Mon Dec 14, 2009 via web

    Like you, we enjoy getting to the real meaning behind the jargon. We developed a humorous Jargon Quiz featuring the incomprehensible copy of prominent companies.

    If only it were purely amusing that companies have to twist what they say to make bad sound like good, and less sound like more. It's also unfortunate.

    Last time I was in Starbucks, "Tall" referred to their *smallest* size. It confuses me every time.

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