Seven words you should never say in branding (with apologies to George Carlin)

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Let’s be honest—most brands fall short of their promises. It’s hard to be perfect, even under the best intentions, with all that public scrutiny waiting to pounce on the first false move. 

And yet, so many companies insist on perpetuating the doublespeak that has rendered once-relevant words meaningless. In this haze of verbiage, it’s getting harder to tell the good guys from the bad. But if you truly want to be differentiating, and avoid sounding like you’re upselling, greenwashing or bottom-lining, think twice before using the following seven words. 


One of the few companies who could rightfully call themselves green, Patagonia, doesn’t. While other companies are just starting to catch up, Patagonia has been pioneering environmentally-aware products and policies since the 1970s. If you’ve got an unsustainable growth model, you’d better tiptoe around this one. 


When buying a product labeled as “beef,” one assumes that said product does not contain horse. Or any other animal, for that matter. Looks like we’ve got a widespread problem with mix ‘n’ match here. Makes you question the whole industrialized food complex, doesn’t it? 


Nothing sounds more disingenuous than claiming to be a transparent company. Just because your corporate headquarters are built out of glass doesn’t mean that your policies are. Thankfully, there are some checks against such claims, making it easier to separate the obtrusively opaque from the truly transparent. 


As in, “customer service.” Being in a service industry, I sympathize with the challenges that it brings. However, it’s clear that some companies (usually the ones we need most, like utilities) need to rethink how they name their service departments. Convoluted, automated menus and mysteriously dropped calls would be better folded into a “customer setbacks” department. 


I’m not really a believer in guarantees. They remind me too much of false promises made by schlocky car dealerships. And as a branding move, such claims set you up for failure or the appearance of insincerity. Aim for honesty, not hyperbole. 


Content, as defined by Merriam-Webster, refers to the substance of written work. In order to have substance, time and craft is required, along with a perspective that’s hopefully tied to a messaging strategy. But that’s not why content mills exist; their writers churn out inconsequential bits that generate money through site hits. Unless there’s more to it, this “content” is only clutter. 


Are you pushing the envelope? Developing products or services before consumers know they need them? If you’re not operating with the elegant simplicity of companies like Apple or Google, please don’t broadcast your solutions as innovative. It’s like lying on a resume—nobody benefits. 

Thank you for reading my bleeping words. 

Miles Seiden is a senior designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office. 

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