Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Whole Lotta Grabbin’ Going On, in Marketing

Think Twice Before Using a Trendy Word

Recently, the word “grab” has rippled through our culture and the marketing and news machines that feed it.

Marketers are telling me to “grab and go” a bottle of water with my morning coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts) or to “grab my girlfriends” and come to an evening reception to learn about incontinence and heart disease (my local hospital).

Salesmen, telemarketers and consultants who I have just met want to “grab coffee” with me.  The waitress in a sophisticated restaurant ruins my evening with “I’ll grab that drink for ya.”  I can’t even enjoy my daily business news: Headline writers have start-up companies “grabbing” millions of dollars in financing. (Headline writers appear to be in paradise: a new, hyper-trendy word with ONLY FOUR LETTERS!)

Stop all this grabbing. As a consumer, I’m begging you.

I am an adult. I don’t grab, unless it’s an emergency. I may grab to keep someone from walking into the path of a speeding car. Or to prevent my favorite piece of crystal from hitting the floor. But otherwise, I live a grab-free life. By design. 

“Grab” is yet another useful word ruined by overuse and misuse. To the extent that when I hear the word – in an advertisement, in a retail transaction, in a conversation or in a news headline – I immediately tune out.  And usually take my business or attention elsewhere.
What’s behind the “grab” mania?   Is there a bunch of overpaid market researchers somewhere in the ivory towers of Madison Avenue saying to their clients:  “Grab. It’s empowering yet playful.  It conveys control, with good old American haste, recklessness, and sense of entitlement.  It’s breezy and light for the GenXers and GenYers! It’s just perfect!” More likely it’s just sloppiness and lack of empathy.

Of course, it might just be me – a market of one – who has an antipathy to “grab.”  But it could be others in my demographic: Baby Boomers, who came of age in a more civil, less-careless era.

The real question: are you willing to risk making an uninformed bet, particularly if you’re counting on selling to me and my cohort?   Your trendy talk just may be our trash talk.

According to the AARP, 77+ million Americans will turn 65 over the next 19 years – a rate of 10,000 a dayThis group represents billions in disposable income. And they’re spending it not only on essentials – health care and nursing homes (where “grab” definitely takes on a whole new connotation) – but also on travel, fine food and drink, hobbies. In fact, when they think “health,” they think “lifestyle.” And they don’t want to be talked sideways or down to by GenXers (including GenXer marketing writers).

So, before associating “grab” (or any trendy word) with your brand image, think. 

Give it my Three-Pronged Wrong Test.  (You can do this test even if you’re a small business without a research budget: just ask a handful of your best customers.)  Ask yourself if your trendy word is:

Inappropriate:   Does the trendy word paint the wrong mental picture?  For example, the word “grab” might inadvertently create unpleasant connotations when used in hospital marketing.  Conversely, “grabbing” a bottle of water while I speed through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through creates the right connotation: fast, convenient.

Inaccurate:   When’s the last time your start-up company “grabbed” $5 million from a group of investors?  "Grabbing” $5 million may come easy to Wall Street bond traders (they just make it up, steal it or both.) But if you’re like most of my friends and clients who have founded start-up companies, you worked long and hard to obtain that money. You didn’t steal it. You likely nearly killed yourself to get the investors to give that $5 million to you instead of another start-up.  Wouldn’t a more accurate headline then be “Start-up X Wins $5 Million"?  ("Wins" = ONLY FOUR LETTERS. Q.E.D.)

Insinuating:   Does the trendy word convey too much informality or familiarity?  I am unlikely to “grab” coffee with someone I just met.  Nor do I want to “grab” a glass of wine when I am having an elegant, relaxed dinner – or have someone “grab” the wine for me.  Or “grab” another size of a designer skirt from the rack in an exclusive boutique.

Words matter –printed and spoken.  Politicians, Hollywood, and major brands agonize over the right words to persuade us.  More marketers should follow their lead, at least philosophically – and stop being so sloppy.


  1. Stop being so sloppy? Don't you mean stop being so grabby?

    That's what's wrong with it -- it's a perjorative. It's something kindergarteners do, and they're disciplined for it. It's something speculators do ("land grab") and they're indicted for it. Why would you want a negative word associated with your advertising?

  2. Another overused marketing word seen often in high tech: Sexy. Just can't picture my phone or tablet as sexy, even without their neoprene covers.