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Marketing acronyms that must die

Marketing acronyms that must die Drew Hubbard

Look, we all know we have a problem. Marketers, that is. But we just can't stop ourselves. We love -- love -- acronyms. We can speak almost exclusively in them sometimes. If it's more than one word, we'll shorten it to two or more letters.

Sure, acronyms serve a purpose. Some phrases are repeated so often and are so unwieldy to the tongue that it just makes sense. I mean, who wants to say "search engine results page" 4,000 times a day? Just say SERP. It's short, and it rhymes with "burp," so it's even fun to say.

Marketing acronyms that must die

That said, we need to set some limits here. Not all acronyms are necessary or even useful. At this point, I think marketers just like to acronymize anything they can because abbreviating things make us seem more important and busy than we really are. ("Syllables?? I don't have time for syllables!") Or, we want to make it clear to non-industry people that our industry is much more complicated than it actually is. Or, maybe we just want to prove to each other that we're all a part of the same silly club.

At this point, people in our industry are throwing around acronyms when they don't even know what they stand for. Worse, some stand for multiple things and have significant potential for confusion. Let's take a look at some of the worst offenders. Please feel free to leave your own pet peeves in the comments.


OK, I'm starting with a big boy here. And look, I know I'm not going to convince you to stop saying CPM. You have to. This media-buying acronym pretty much drives our industry. So let's just say that my including it on this list is my way of saying I'd like to go back in time and punch the guy who came up with it in the first place square in the nose holes.

So, CPM stands for cost per thousand. Most of you probably know that. And most of you hopefully also know that the word "thousand" doesn't start with an M. The more curious of you might have looked it up and discovered that mille is Latin for thousand, and that's where this acronym originated.

Acronyms are intended to simplify life. This head-scratcher just complicates things unnecessarily. So is it going anywhere? No. But let's just agree that it's stupid.

While we're at it...


In addition to acknowledging the stupidity of CPM as an acronym, let's just admit that the overall "cost per" landscape has gotten out of control in the acronym world.

Cost per interaction. Cost per install. Cost per impression (which is pretty much the same as CPM, whhhhaaaaa?) So now we have at least three CPIs floating around in similar conversations. (Don't forget that there's also the Consumer Price Index. Good lord.) But it doesn't stop there. Cost per action. Cost per acquisition. Soooooo, two CPAs too? (Plus, don't forget those certified public accountants -- they count too. Literally.) In any case, the cost-per-crap just goes on and on.

You get the point. There are too many options. There's no standard. So just stop it with the acronyms for now. Spell it out, or someone will have no idea what you're talking about -- and these are important distinctions for our business. We all deserve to know exactly what we're paying for.


End of day (EOD) and close of business (COB). We like to put these in emails when we're telling people what we need and by when. Pretty simple, right?

Except that it's not. In fact, these phrases and their irritating acronyms couldn't be more vague. End of day? So, what -- midnight? OK -- whose midnight? Eastern Time? Pacific Time? Nepal Time?

Close of business? OK -- when do you leave your desk? Are we going to pretend there's a universal quittin' time anymore?

In any case, this wouldn't be a big deal if we weren't so frequently bandying these terms about in time-sensitive situations. These are deadlines we're talking about, people. So just type 5 p.m. ET, you dick.


SMB stands for small- and medium-sized business. I know what you're thinking: What's the problem here? Well, aside from the fact that it also stands for a million other things, including Super Mario Bros, the acronym leaves lots of other room for confusion.

The concept of a small- to medium-sized business isn't readily understood by most of the marketers who throw around the term. Yes, the Small Business Administration might use this term and set employee limits that define "small businesses" by industry. (But worldwide, it varies widely.) But let's be honest: You don't know what those thresholds are, and you certainly don't use them when applying this acronym. A lot of larger agencies might as well just use the acronym to mean "doesn't have a budget worth our time" (even though that's often not the case).

Anyway. Just stop using SMB if you're not spelling out exactly what you mean when it comes to business size. The mom-and-pop candy store down the block is not the same as the tech company up the street with 498 employees. But both likely languish under the generic heading of SMB.

Any acronym that makes you sound like a clown

Remember Chandler Bing from "Friends"? Of course you do. Well, Chandler's often-referenced office acronym WENUS stood for "weekly estimated net usage system." The joke, of course, is that you can't take a person seriously when they say "WENUS." (It rhymes with penis, FYI.)

Well, our industry is full of WENUSes. Month-over-month? Yep, that's MOM. Year-over-year? Yep -- YOY! Another personal favorite of mine is WOMM, for word-of-mouth marketing. Say it with me: WOMM. WOOOOOOOOOOMM.

Yep. We sound like idiots.

Any acronym that you don't know how to spell out

Do you know what an API is? You might. But I know some of you don't. Yet you've tried to sound smart in a meeting and thrown out that acronym before. You might have gotten lucky and applied it correctly. (If not, I doubt anyone told you.)

But in short, don't use an acronym until you look it up. Please. Better yet, maybe don't use it at all. The English language could stand for a little more respect these days.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie.  Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Cut letters from newspaper" image via Stutterstock.

Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Luis Ruiz

2013, November 22

And What about ROPO?
Online & Offline both are "O"
The mean can be one thing and the opposite.
It's an stupidacronym.

and of course, Jeremy: BDM all people knows that it means BonDage & Masochism ;-)

Commenter: jeremy knott

2013, November 20

Nice one Drew. You say you're an SEO. What is that as i thought SEO was Search Engine Optimisation? Are you a Serious Executive Only? Socieable Entrepreneur Of course!
JK (BDM and Int Mgr/Dir S&M)

Commenter: Arthur Cohen

2013, November 20

What also ought to die is using the word acronyms for initialisms. It's easy to remember the difference--if it's pronounced as a word, e.g., SERP, it''s an acronym. If not, e.g., CPM, it's an initialism. OK, I'm a language crank. WTF.

Commenter: Rob Willox

2013, November 20

Know what it is, of course, but not sure what it does! The American Petroleum Institute that is!

Commenter: Lee Dellinger

2013, November 20

Yeh, there definitely seems to be a lot of MATMD in our business these days.