A silhouette of a man with two speech bubbles represents doublespeak, which can be confusing for everyone involved in a marketing deal.

I received a spam message last month from a guy who was selling exposure on his website.

He told me he wanted to publish a “feature story” about my company.

He added, “There is a symbolic fee for this.”

A symbolic fee?!

“What’s a ‘symbolic fee’?” I wrote.

His reply: “It’s $85. Looking forward to hearing from you.”

Sounds to me like $85 is a real fee.

But maybe I could send the guy a pile of Monopoly money — symbolic cash — for coverage.

Figuring the guy’s bank wouldn’t accept funny money, I told him, “No thanks, I’m not interested.”

Would it be worth $85 for coverage? Maybe, but I didn’t even bother to dig deeper.

Had he given it to me straight, I might have considered the opportunity. But, instead, he gave me “symbolic fee.” He gave me marketing doublespeak.

Doublespeak is language that disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of words.

Corporations, governments, military institutions and (sorry to say) small-business marketers constantly alter or shade meaning with doublespeak.
Bombs and missiles become “aerial ordnance.”

Tax hike becomes “revenue enhancement.”

Layoff becomes “reduction in force” or, worse yet, “headcount adjustment.”

Assassination becomes “extrajudicial killing.”

Vinyl becomes “genuine imitation leather.”

And an $85 charge to buy online exposure becomes “symbolic.”

“Fee” alone is a bad thing. But don’t worry, this fee is “symbolic.”

I point at that sales guy. And you laugh (hopefully). But we all stand accused.

It’s likely we’ve all used doublespeak in our own marketing.

Check your copy for these words and phrases:

You say, “Nearly.” (“We have nearly 25 years’ experience.”)

I wonder: How many years, actually?

You say, “Among.” (“We are among the top firms in the area.”)

I wonder: Really? According to whom? Show me the ranking.

You say, “Top.”

(See above.)

You say, “Gently used.”

I wonder: Do you mean “worn out”?

You say, “Shabby chic.”

I wonder: Do you mean more worn out than “gently used”?

You say, “Rustic.”

I wonder: Do you mean more run down than “shabby chic”?

You get the idea.

This stuff weasels its way into our marketing — often without us realizing it.

Sometimes it works (or doesn’t backfire). But buyers are smart. They see through the doublespeak, and they lose patience. Some will tell you that doublespeak makes them sick.

When that’s the case, you lose the sale.

In that case, doublespeak has made you and your prospect puke.

Sorry, that’s nasty.

With credit to George Carlin, I meant to say that’s enough to give you and your prospect “an involuntary personal protein spill.”

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