New Dejargonizer plug-in puts ad industry jargon in the firing line

By James Robinson , written on May 1, 2014

From The News Desk

In March, I wrote about ad tech’s sleep-inducing obsession with jargon. As an ad tech reporter, it can make the industry a slog. So imagine my delight when I saw the Dejargonizer, a Google Chrome plug-in that can scan web pages and light up these painful linguistic foibles like a Christmas-tree. Within minutes it was like my browser was in on the joke, laughing along with me.

With the Dejargonizer installed, ad tech’s ripest waffle comes up on the page highlighted in yellow. Moving your cursor over the word in question, a definition pops up. They’re not always friendly.

Engagement: Please come and accept your award for the most overused buzzword in marketing. Engagement. We could just say “keeping someone’s attention” but that’s just not as buzzy is it?

Call-to-action: This one’s easy, it’s language that encourages you to do something. For example: Read this! Click here! Buy now! Share with a friend! Make a funny face! You see these in ads, mobile apps, newsletters and on webpages.

The Dejargonizer was thrown together in a few weeks by Knock Twice, a creative communications agency, working in partnership with Google, which is its client.

“It was inspired by the ad world. It’s just a fun little thing, we’re not going to change the way advertisers communicate. But hopefully it will give some of us that moment of pause. So maybe there will be small perceptional shifts in the way we work from this,” says Knock Twice’s Creative Director Kyle Monson.

Monson is a former journalist that made the jump over into corporate communications and eventually helped found Knock Twice. There’s no huge plan for the Dejargonizer beyond it being a fun toy to play with. He says that Google jumped on the idea, wanting to leverage its status in the digital marketing world to help change the often impenetrable culture of language.

“We both thought it would be funny to burst the bubble, to take the piss a little bit,” Monson says.

When I poked fun at ad jargon in my article, some people reacted sharply. I ask Monson whether he expects ad industry insiders to react defensively to the Dejargonizer. Monson says that he understands some of that guardedness. Some ad jargon they're all stuck with. Certain words are just the agreed upon description for something. “But in the most part there’s just this jargon arms race. It contributes to this lack of communication and brands and clients not knowing we’re talking about,” he says.

Some of the jargon is market driven, Monson thinks. ‘Native advertising’ is just ‘sponsored content,’ but the phrase has more cache nowadays. Monson says that people will call something “whatever it takes to get someone to pay for it.”

The end result is that ad tech people keep others at bay, probably unintentionally. “It’s not like when you see a bunch of lawyers speaking in a language you don’t understand. Those guys don’t want you to understand them,” Monson says.

The Dejargonizer holds a small lesson in it for us all to think about the language we use and the impact that has on other people. “We could probably build one for the tech press next,” Monson laughs.

Mark Twain once said, "Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do." Any writer would be well served keep this saying close at hand -- only in ad tech, the lesson is a little more urgent.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]