Killer Executions

We adworkers are a cynical bunch. We trade on empathy and yet we are aggressively tone-deaf. We seek to elicit honest emotions from people and yet twist ourselves into pretzels of sarcasm and irony to avoid ever having to appear sincere. And most of all, we disdain the craft of what we do – sneering at those who take it seriously and who push themselves for real insight, laughing openly at anyone foolish enough to actually seek truths in this huckster game, to make something truly memorable and sincere and important in this used car salesman paradise.

And yet there are some of us who, despite all the slings and arrows, still seek to illuminate – even if, in an effort to maintain their bona fides in adlandia they have to do so through the sarcastic vocabulary of adworkers, lest the community, as another creative director once said, hear but never understand, see but never perceive.

Such is the case with Dan Goldgeier’s terrific little book Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks: An Outside the Box Look at Obnoxious Advertising and Marketing Jargon. You may remember Goldgeier from his column “The View from the Cheap Seats” which he wrote for Talent Zoo for eighteen years, and which he published in an eponymous collection  in 2011 (and which we reviewed here, and interviewed him about here). In this latest book, Goldgeier has taken aim at the language of this business which, as anyone involved in it for more than five minutes will acknowledge, is filled with a vocabulary all its own. Why? Goldgeier has a theory:

Getting into the advertising or marketing business is often a mystifying process. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need a formal resume. Sometimes, you don’t even need pants. But the way advertising professionals speak doesn’t mirror the rest of the business world. It’s definitely a way of determining, ‘Hey, are you one of us?’

Goldgeier could have stopped there, of course – filling the rest of the book with simple definitions of adland’s arcane language, providing a service to anyone trying to break into the business, by providing a sort of Rosetta Stone for them. But Goldgeier does more, not merely pointing out the stupidities of the words we use, but using these malapropisms to make bigger points about the business itself. Like this, in his definition of “viral” and the spread of viral marketing:

No actual viral campaign has spread quite like the mere concept of doing a viral marketing campaign has.

Or this, under the header “360-degree marketing” to explain whatever it is we’re calling integrated marketing campaigns now:

Other similar terms for using a variety of media in a marketing campaign include ‘integrated’ and ‘holistic.’ If a client can’t afford a 360-degree, holistic, integrated marketing campaign, the agency usually claims to believe in being ‘media-neutral.’ Which means ‘we don’t quite know what the hell’s gonna work, but whatever we can make money on, we’ll try that.’

Let he who is not cynical or jaded, or has not written up a reduced scope of work along those lines, cast the first stone.

Which is why this is more than a series of snarky pokes at the advertising industry, and why it’s more than a simple glossary of useful adworker terms. In truth, it’s more like “Uncle Dan’s Little Book of Advertising Aphorisms” – a series of apothegms that will arm you with what you need to make sense of your workload, your clients, and your career, whatever level of the business you’re in. Like this under “Monetize”:

Sometime during the dawn of our Information Age, we started coming up with business ideas or products that no customer would reasonably pay for. So we began to find ways to ‘monetize’ these business models. In other words, make a profit. Which means either charging consumers for the product or service, or accepting advertising to subsidize it. Or both. You must prioritize the need to monetize. This especially applies to marketing-related ideas. Why? I have a simple rule: Someone has to pay for them. And someone has to profit from them. Otherwise they’re not gonna happen.

All of which reminds us of a particular rant we used to enjoy by another keen wordsmith, George Carlin, who would decry how the evolution of certain phrases over time allowed us to ignore and bury the fundamental truths at the heart of what we were doing. He would talk about shellshock, but the same is true here. “Monetize” sounds so much softer, so much less imperative, than “make a profit” doesn’t it? As if businesses were not in business to make money, but simply to “monetize”. Or more precisely, to “get monetized”. As if it were a thing that happened to them passively – as when your skin gets moisturized or your car gets Simonized. Little wonder that so few people in advertising are focused on helping their clients make money, or indeed, helping their own agencies do it either, having lost the ability to actually sell anything to any one, having lost the understanding of why.

As a result, the only criticism we have of the book is its brevity. For anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in a brainstorm or in a strategy meeting or in a client presentation knows that this book only touches the tip of the iceberg. And the problem with that is what, Goldgeier himself identifies when writing about “Thought Starters”:

‘Thought starters’ may be nice to have, but the advertising world needs more thought finishers. And thought doers. So help me, I think I’ve invented more crappy phrases now.

Run that up the flagpole with the Thought Leaders at your next Ideation session and see who salutes it.


Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks by Dan Goldgeier was published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on 06/15/2015 – order it from Amazon here or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

Please be advised that The Agency Review is an Amazon Associate and as such earns a commission from qualifying purchases

You May Also Want to Read:

View from the Cheap Seats by Dan Goldgeier
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt