marketing technobabble

Marketers can go a little trademark crazy. Sometimes we focus so much on the trademarked features of a product that we lose sight of the actual consumer need.

Last week, someone sent me a piece of marketing communication for a new razor, the “Gillette(R) Fusion(R) ProGlide(R) with Flexball(TM) technology.” The string of four trademarked names to describe a single product cracked us both up.

Shaving is the poster category for feature proliferation. This dynamic creates opportunity for startups like Dollar Shave Club. Dollar Shave Club’s famous launch video went at the category head-on: “Don’t buy shave-tech you don’t need.” Instead of technobabble, they simply claimed “Our blades our F**king Great” and then focused on a real consumer need.

Here’s a cartoon I drew on this dynamic in 2010.
EPSON scanner image
Marketing Technobabble is common with technical products, where innovation can be tech-centric rather than consumer-centric. From razors to B2B software, brands often start to breathe their own exhaust.

I think there’s a lot that technical brands can learn from the Dollar Shave Club approach.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

  1. Tessa Stuart says


    Your post got me smiling this morning. “The best a man can get” has had us laughing on this side of the Atlantic for a long time.

    I see the same “arms-race” escalation of descriptions in food and drink – “natural”, “loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants” – I’m copying this last phrase off a packet of chia seeds (the new quinoa apparently) from my cupboard.

    I now urge my clients to get their designers and copywriters to use other words, or much better yet, on their food packaging, to choose images and design to create desirability. Words have lost their meaning, they have been so abused by marketeers.

    In food, you can’t trademark descriptive words. The European Union regulators do a great job of throwing out unjustifiable claims like “probiotics”. But there are “food health” memes that food manufacturers get out there, through “studies” of dubious quality, into the mainstream media. The middle-aged UK female consumer is growing sceptical, and tuning out, she checks the ingredients when food shopping, she carefully examines the claims. Everyone works in marketing now, or knows someone who does. The gullible consumer housewife sitting passively there waiting to receive marketing messages from big corporates no longer exists. Instead, she can explain the branding strategy of a yoghurt to me in the aisle in three minutes flat, even if she actually works not for a marketing department, but in the NHS….

    Make-up and skin care is also an arena of hyperbole – the (tiny sample) studies that say “23 out of 25 women thought their skin appeared better”. My 18 and 21 year old daughters are expert at de-coding beauty ads, and ignoring them. For them, their peer group recommendation matters more. As we all curate our media consumption more and more, marketeers have to change their approach, and co-create messages in the world of the consumer.

  2. Kevin McFarthing says

    Hi Tom – spot on as usual. You may remember from your time in the UK a varnish brand, Ronseal (owned by Sherwin Williams) that has the byline – “does what it says on the tin”. It focuses on a benefit driven, single-minded message, e.g. “fast-drying wood stain”. The byline is now used to describe straightforward obvious things in general culture. Here’s an example of a TV ad –

  3. Sean Peake says

    A transcript of SNL’s “triple-Trac” ad from 1975 seems fitting

    Announcer (V/O): In the dawn of civilization, long before the Bronze Age, man first began his search for the close shave.

    [ The caveman takes a club and hits himself in the face. DISSOLVE to the announcer speaking to the camera against a black background ]

    Announcer: Since then, man has been ardently striding to design the perfect shaving instrument.

    [ Shots of various razors are shown ]

    Announcer (V/O): From the straight razor, to the safety razor, to the injector system, and finally the highly acclaimed twinblade cartridge.

    [ The announcer picks up a twinblade and shows it to the camera ]

    Announcer: Almost perfect, yet not quite the superlative groom. Introducing the Triple-Trac.

    [ DISSOLVE to a close-up of the three-bladed Triple-Trac razor ]

    Announcer (V/O): Not just two blades in one system, but three stainless, platinum teflex-coated blades melded together to form one incredible shaving cartridge, easily fitted into your old twinblade holder. Triple-Trac’s triple-threat cartridge, with more close shaves than ever before. Here’s how it works.

    [ DISSOLVE to a cartoon showing a how the Triple-Trac shaves a whisker ]

    Announcer (V/O): The first blade grabs at the whisker, tugging it away from your face to protect it from the second blade.

    [ The cartoon shows how the Triple-Trac yanks painfully at the whisker ]

    Announcer (V/O): Blade number two catches and digs into the stubble before it has the chance to snap back and injure you, pulling it farther out so that it is now ready for shearing.

    [ The cartoon shows an even more painful whisker-yanking ]

    Announcer (V/O): Triple-Trac’s third blade, a finely-honed bonded platinum instrument, cuts cleanly through the whisker at its base, leaving your face as smooth as a billiard ball.

    [ Finally, the cartoon shows the Triple-Trac completely shaving the whisker ]

    [ DISSOLVE back to the announcer against the black background, holding up a Triple-Trac ]

    Announcer: The Triple-Trac. Because you’ll believe anything.

    [ FADE ]

  4. Tracy Carlson says

    Perhaps it’s the P & G legacy of differentiation based on a technical edge, but brands have been using this forever, and not just techie ones (remember Trident gum with Xylitol?). These days, consumers are savvier and know most of these differences are trivial. Offering a benefit that resonates in a real person’s life, even if it’s simply relief from marketing hype, can be a source of genuine distinction.

    Decades ago, David Ogilvy brilliantly came up with the phrase “one quarter cleansing cream” (later “moisturizing cream”) to describe the key ingredient in Dove Beauty Bar, a brand I had the honor to manage. Way more powerful and memorable than Directly Esterified Fatty Isothionate!

  5. Adrian Langford says

    Tessa’s plea to avoid overused descriptors is sound advice. But ironically she herself falls into the trap of clichéd buzzwords with “curate” and “co-create”. This kind of boilerplate business-speak is driving too many bland marketing strategies. And I’m not sure about the easy rhetoric of consumers “passively receiving marketing messages” in the past holds water. Did she passively receive such messages?

  6. Dan says

    Tom, you’re always insightful but this is one of your best in weeks. I’m a 51 years young “sales & marketing” (truthfully more sales than marketing) generalist and this type of babble / spin has always made me laugh. The part that makes me “not laugh” is the key element you pointed out in your work. I’m paying for that babble / spin! What once was $0.50 is now $8.50?!!! The only way I can get that bad taste out of my mouth is by popping in a Certs (with Retysn!).

  7. citizenparable says

    On top of the babble, razor manufacturers are also guilty of engineering redundancy into their own product lines via the connections between disposable heads and razor handles.

    I can understand brand protection – making sure a customer can’t fit Schick razors to a Gillette handle.

    But I recently saw a new Schick Hydro product, where the company has gone to the trouble of making a minor size adjustment to their proprietorial attachment mechanism, for sole purpose of ensuring customers cannot fit previous generation blades to the new handle.

    This is reprehensible marketing, in my opinion, and shows an utter disdain for the customer. It’s also pretty stupid, considering it is literally punishing a brand-loyal customer for buying your new product.

    Build and retain loyalty by making my life easier and better, not by reducing my options and trying to frustrate me into buying your latest.

    Exactly why I switched to safety razor and plain blades.

  8. sm1guru says

    What everyone properly trained in marketing knows: never mind the features, what are the benefits?!

  9. Cori says

    I agree with this concept entirely.

    Great cartoon and it reminded me of this comedy skit from Australia in the 90’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *