Marketing / August 29, 2014

13 Meaningless Marketing Terms You Might be Falling For

Seth Godin once wrote a book called All Marketers are Liars. They’ve since adjusted the title to All Marketers Tell Stories. He was more right the first time. Marketing, a business I work in, is quite often one of tricking customers. The best marketers are storytellers and try to paint a picture for the customer, but a whole lot of marketing is simply misdirection and manipulation. It wants to make people believe something is better quality than it is or a better deal than it is. Here are 13 oft-used terms marketers use to trick you. Are you falling for them?

1) Applewood Smoked

The bacon business is booming, and this phrase is slapped on packages in every store from Aldi to Whole Foods. But really, would you be able to tell the difference between applewood smoked, oakwood smoked, or driftwood smoked? Would you even care? It’s freaking bacon!

2) Black Angus

You know what a Black Angus is? It’s s a cow. A normal, nothing special, common old beef cow. It’s the cow that a huge percentage of all the beef we eat comes from. So when you hear a restaurant describe their new “premium black angus burger” what they are really describing is their “plain old hamburger that’s been around for years.”

3) Premium

Speaking of premium, there’s another useless term. There is no standard for premium. Not from J.D. Power & Associates, not from the government, not from anyone. If a company calls their own product “premium” it means exactly nothing. It might mean something, but you can’t take their word for it.

4) Up to

“Save up to 50% at our big weekend sale!” declares the massive department store ad. You know what is “up to 50%”? 0%, 1%, 2%, 5%, 10%, and so on. “Up to” means “any amount less than.” Don’t listen to the number; listen to the less than.

5) Starting At/As Low As

“Get a brand new suit with prices as low as $199.” “Get into one of our 2015 Toyota 4Runners, starting at $29,995!” This is the evil twin of “up to.” Instead of misleading about how much you will save it misleads about how much you will pay. “Starting at” simply means that is the lowest possible price you could pay but will likely pay more, much more.

6) Famous

Everyone loves to be associated with fame, so why not slap it on your diner or fried chicken joint? You can go tell your friends you went somewhere famous. You can Instagram famous food. But who decided it was famous? Where is it famous? At the owner’s family reunion? If nobody outside the neighborhood knows who you are then you’re not famous.

7) Home Made

Unless the cooks live at the restaurant the biscuits are not, in fact, home made. Some sweet grandma lady did not use her secret recipe and season them with a dash of love.

8) Hand Crafted

In one sense everything is hand crafted. Hands run the computers that run the robots that build the machines that spit out the product. So that “hand crafted” purse or leather bag you paid a pretty penny for? The hand that crafted it might have have simply hit the “start” button.

9) Luxury

See “premium” and add a splash of pomposity.

10) Select Items

Often paired with “up to” in a devious double lie: “Save up to 75% on select items.” YES I can get all the XXXL Hawaiian shirts for something less than 75% off!

11) 0 Grams Trans Fat

Please ignore all the other kinds of fat and the 32 pounds of sugar and 9 shovels full of salt. Oh look, a Unicorn!

12) Trail Rated

This is a Jeep special. Every time Jeep advertises a new vehicle they promote it as “trail rated.” You know who trail rates? Jeep. Basically they are saying “our vehicles are awesome according to us.”

13) Energy Star

If everything is awesome then nothing is awesome (sorry Lego Movie). The same basically goes for Energy Star, the ubiquitous label on every appliance made in the last 5 years. If they’re all stars then none of them is a star.

Any catchphrases, slogans, or other marketing terms you’ve heard that you would add to the list?


photo credit: josephmatthews via photopin cc


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Aug 29, 2014

[…] 13 Marketing Terms You Might Be Falling For – Barnabas Piper gives the down-low on marketing tricks. […]

Aug 29, 2014

I just thought of one more:
“___% more for FREE” – You see this a lot on condiments and detergents. Nope you’re not getting any % for free. You’re just getting a few more ounces for the price you paid.

Aug 29, 2014

Love the article, Barnabas. How about BOGO??? Do the math, you’re never really getting it for free, eh??? 🙂

    Aug 29, 2014

    I almost included that. It’s basically a way to take a discount and split it between two items while giving the impression you are getting an AMAZING deal. I didn’t include it because it does always includes a real, actual discount of some kind.

Aug 29, 2014

“For a limited time” as well: The right answer at the wrong time is a wrong answer

    Aug 29, 2014

    I actually think that one is ok. It’s no hiding anything and it creates urgency in the consumer.

Aug 29, 2014


Aug 29, 2014

My eyes were opened to ” no other med/deodorant/weed killer/beauty product is stronger/better/more effective /faster at making you beautiful”. That is often used when regulations limit the strength of the drug/chemical. In reality, the competitors product is not stronger or weaker. It is the same.

Aug 30, 2014

“All natural.” Which simply means that all of the processed ingredients included in the deal were at one time from a natural source before they hit the factory.

Sep 01, 2014

The more you buy, the more you save!

Sep 01, 2014

[…] ~ 13 meaningless marketing terms you might be falling for. […]

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