Read the F****g Manual…

A few years ago I delivered a presentation at my friend Drayton Bird’s European Academy of Direct and Interactive Marketing. The attendees were mostly Eastern European, but there were also two delegates flying the Aussie flag.

Another Aussie patriot flying the flag
Another Aussie patriot flying the flag

Direct marketing is now taking off in Eastern Europe and a few things were obvious from the outset. One being how the delegates just assumed the interweb is simply a digital channel for direct marketing – end of discussion.

Another is that we probably take for granted just how good our infrastructure is in terms of media, lists and distribution services. For example, most of the emerging countries don’t have address lists – mail, e-mail or sms – so they are hamstrung before they begin. Much of their activity is aimed at building lists through direct response advertising with landing pages as the response device.

One Slovenian marketer is having great success using former Soviet currency as an involvement device. Apparently you can buy old bank notes in bulk for a few cents per thousand. He uses them in customer mailings and handed out dozens of notes to the audience to prove his point. An old trick, but not when it’s in a new market.

The other thing that became immediately clear was how much jargon our industry uses. It’s not until you’re trying to translate to a room full of people from non-English speaking backgrounds that you realise how much doublespeak we blather.

Try explaining TARPs, CTR, SEO, SEM, CPL, CPA, RFM, CRM, etc to people who haven’t been trained in western marketing practices and for whom English is a second language.

jargon comic

I also tried out my (excuse the jargon) tipping-point questions that I’ve been asking Australasian audiences. One question I asked was; “who doesn’t own or wear a watch?” The answer is usually between 20% and 40% of the audience no longer wear a watch. So we’re getting close to the tipping-point where more people won’t wear one, than do wear one. You’ll be glad to know that about 30% of the European audience didn’t own or wear a watch either.

Another question I asked was; “what do you think of when I say multi-channel marketing?” The answer was similar to audiences here; campaigns across numerous media such as TV, radio, press, outdoor and the interweb. Although you will get more people including mail in their answer here. The term ‘digital print” is never used when answering the multi-channel question.

Which brings me to some of the jargon being used by the local digital print industry. As you may be aware there is a push by digital printers (and also digital art studios) to position themselves as marketing service organisations. One of the reasons is that because some of them now send e-mail and sms, they call themselves providers of “multi-channel marketing services”.

Let’s get real here – just because it’s new for a printer to offer more than printing, doesn’t mean a multi-channel campaign is new to marketers. In fact, marketers don’t order a multi-channel campaign from their agencies. They simply ask their agency to produce a campaign in the media required to get the job done – whether it’s one or many media. Multi-channel isn’t marketers’ jargon.

I cannot recall a marketer briefing an agency with; “can you create a $100,000 multi-channel campaign thanks?”

$100,000 worth of multi-channel marketing please...
$100,000 worth of multi-channel marketing please…

If printers and digital ‘agencies’ are going to provide marketing services, then they need to understand the language of their customers and not try to force their own language onto the market. Many also call direct mail campaigns “DM campaigns”. DM is jargon for Direct Marketing, not for Direct Mail – so please get the jargon right if you’re going to use it.

But who really knows what’s right and wrong when it comes to jargon? Recently I was in a meeting where the marketing manager started talking about their CRM programme. Expecting a discussion around single view of the customer, software programmes and the like, I was preparing my two cents worth, when I realised I was in a parallel universe.

The marketer was talking about Cause Related Marketing, not Customer Relationship Management.


Although as an ‘old dog’ (or should that be Auld dog?) I shouldn’t be surprised. Years ago when addressing the new recruits for the ADMA Certificate Course I asked if anyone in the class knew what RFM stood for. One lady held up her hand and asked rather sheepishly, if I was sure I wanted her to explain it to the class. I encouraged her to stand up and enthusiastically explain the meaning of RFM and why it was so important.

I assumed she knew it stood for Recency, Frequency, Monetary – the 3 pillars of calculating customer value.

Instead she promptly told the room that RFM stood for Read the F****g Manual. She worked for IBM and that’s what RFM stood for in her world.

The poor gal was so embarrassed she never answered a question again the whole semester.


(in case you’re confused, that’s Laugh Out Loud, not Lots Of Love. Although I suppose if you want it to be Lots Of Love that’s OK. WTF does OK stand for?)


  1. I can’t help but comment again today, Malcolm, as you had me nodding vehemently in agreement throughout this post. Jargon is a blight on our industry – and, as your example deftly demonstrates, sometimes it takes an innocent misinterpretation to illustrate how ridiculous most of it is. I reflexively switch off as soon as I hear the ostentatious misuse of an acronym in a meeting.

  2. Malcolm…
    Still trying to figure out how the aussie-patriot.jpg pic relates to the post… is this model “flying the flag”? LOL (you pick the definition).

    I think the acronym is actually “RTFM” or at least it was in my IT background, being a bit of an old dog as well; but perhaps my memory is fading.

    And, while I agree with you that printers/digital agencies (or rather ‘marketing service providers’) are not necessarily delivering something revolutionary… some of them are doing something that even full service agencies struggle with… and that is the seamlessness of the execution and delivery.

    Here’s a link to a video circa 2003… yes… I said 2003 where David Sable (CEO of Y&R Group / Wunderman) talks about something that they did to give them an edge. And, I still feel that this makes Y&R/Wunderman about one of the most progressive agencies out there for the time.

    The problem with multi-channel, cross-media, omni-channel, mixed-media, or whatever term you want to use is that there are often silos between the execution in one channel versus another. And, it’s often what’s in the ‘gaps’ or ‘white spaces’ in between where extra cost or opportunity lies. Many agencies will be really good at one channel and then outsource other channels… I think that a lot more time in the Australian (and Global) markets could be spent on Marketing Automation for Channel Agnostic Communication (or MAfCAC – not a very sexy acronym so I’m guessing we won’t have a problem confusing it with anything else!)

    • Thanks Duane

      Agree, multi-channel is not new, it’s about 100 years old. Not sure what you mean about RTFM – I’m referring to RFM which is standard DM. I saw the promotional video and interviewed David about it as we both spoke at the same event, but will keep comments out of print – suffice to say you’re being rather generous in your praise for Y&R at the time. Apart from digital studios, agencies are not channel-driven, they are profit-driven and choose the channel that gets the best profit. “Seamlessness of execution and delivery” sounds like jargon to me. But I like your MAFCAC!

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