How To Lose Your Audience: Use Jargon In Your Advertising Videos

Tony Cope - October 5, 2018

When reading about business topics, a general audience sometimes faces the daunting task of deciphering jargon. Companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money to impart their messages to audiences, yet increasingly their communications are filled with obscure technical language, hindering audience understanding. That should never happen.

Our creative team was recently hired by a Fortune-50 company to co-design with their team a series of video communications to be used with a general audience. We were set to meet for two weeks in face-to-face sessions with the client team to explore background materials for understanding their target audience and the corporate-approved strategy.

When we arrived on site, a large poster hung high on the wall above us, and soon we realized it would be the metaphor for our next two weeks:

“Everything we previously electrified, we will now cognify.”

Finding clarity in the mountain of words.

From the start we could tell that though we had a strategic brief from which to work, our clients themselves were still searching for understanding and direction. The abstruse jargon-filled charge given to them by their strategic leaders was as enigmatic to them as it was to us. So we asked to step back and review relevant materials to ensure that we all had the same pictures in our minds of what we needed to achieve.

The product marketer and the chief editor produced four text-filled PowerPoint decks and 16 or so individual jargon-filled slides from other presentations. Here’s just a taste:

…because legacy systems can now synergize fragmention and preclude cognivizing our ASB deliverables, this transformation of your system will now be automatic…

What we discovered was that we were being asked to compress all these bewildering text-filled phrases into several two-minute compelling videos. That was never going to work. We were faced with language and phrases that many of their technical colleagues must have worked hard to craft. Their engineers had switched from everyday language and thoughts to a composited language: verbalized nouns, active acronyms, buzzwords, entirely new constructions — many amazing to behold!


Speaking a clear and concise message.

Our tasks: To first grasp the meanings within, clarify, then re-express for audience understanding. Not easy to do. Many of their new inventions were bulletproof: totally meaningless without a reference guide containing everything from New-Tech Speak to the original base of derived Latin and Greek. Marketing with such phrases would be indeed impressive but, of course, would speak to no one.

Perhaps, we thought, their new language was done as a crafted shorthand to provide so much information and quick reference for only a specialized audience segment: those who truly understand everything and need to take the next step forward with others who are also in the know. If so, they indeed created the perfect “secret handshake.”  

But, alas, the problem: They asked our team to take this marketing message to the outside world. To a general audience who don’t know their secret handshake, the complexity builds fear. All the context and knowledge and reference guides packed into the jargon are unattainable. So ultimately they have no idea what this Fortune-50 company is talking about. Even worse, the complexity of the jargon proves the complexity of the product and tells them that whatever is being offered will be far too complex for them to handle.

So instead of struggling unsuccessfully to re-purpose these incomprehensible slides, our team spent the next two days working to identify the core strategic goals and to express them in every-day language. No five-syllable nouns. No “optimization” or “operationalization.”  Just clear, understandable words. We became jargon translators, required to retain meaning and context from the mystifying polysyllabic lexicon of technical mashups and unfathomable linguistic constructions and to re-swizzle them into clear, concise, and comprehensible sentences.

Finally, a message that speaks clearly to the audience.

And what we discovered, ironically, is that our client was trying to sell simplicity of very complex systems. Go figure!  So to do that our two teams discovered, together, that simple language that speaks to a general audience’s pains and needs will be effective and meaningful.  So we successfully designed the media by:

  • Simplifying to a few relatable words
  • Speaking to the general audience’s questions and desires
  • Changing the language into real-world stories that relate to the audience with empathy
  • Marketing these messages to become the first step in the audience’s journey with the brand

In the end, we also learned about redesigning the process itself: that when faced with perplexing client jargon, we need to move the discovery sessions back into the group building the marketing messages to allow them the time it takes for that expert group to re-focus on their audience’s needs and goals. Only then will they be able to sacrifice technical content and jargon as they gain empathetic understanding of their audience.