ACBA! Don’t You Agree?

huh  When Acronyms and Other Abbreviations Fail

   Unless you really are a rocket scientist, and you’re discussing the combustible properties of hydrogen with another rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab, keep this in mind: If you want customers to pay attention to what you’re saying, you must speak their language, not yours. Jargon, slang and techno-speak mean absolutely nothing to people who are not privy to your industry’s vocabulary, abbreviations and acronyms. The military is infamous for its use of acronyms, and few civilians can interpret them with reliable accuracy. Unless your industry carries a fairly universal level of recognition like NASA or PETA, your peers are likely to be the only ones who know what they stand for, and your peers are probably not your customers or prospects.


At a recent networking event, a woman exchanged business cards with me. Her card was embellished with no fewer than six groups of initials after her name. No doubt they represented her credentials. To an industry peer, the list might have generated respectful recognition. For me, they may as well have been the formula for nuclear fission.

If it’s important that people know you’re an MSM, you should probably tell them what that means. Otherwise, left to speculation, they’ll never be sure if it means Methodist Student Movement, Marine Safety Manual, or Master of Smoke and Mirrors (or a host of other possibilities). The simple facts is, if they don’t know what it means, it means nothing,and people will avoid asking, for fear of sounding ignorant.

It’s not necessary to talk down to your audience – that’s equally insulting. Just be sensitive to the possibility you may be using terminology as foreign to them as Chinese to an Eskimo. (My apologies if this analogy offends Eskimos who speak fluent Chinese, but I think you get the point.)

In marketing and advertising, the most effective content is written to sound like a conversation. The rule of thumb is to keep your marketing message simple enough for a 10-year-old to comprehend. Unless, of course, you really are a rocket scientist at the JPL, discussing the combustible properties of hydrogen with another rocket scientist. In which case, MSM could be a Mission Space Model.

Oh – ACBA? You didn’t know? It stands for “Acronyms Can Be Annoying!”

© 2013 Gelmtree Advertising  All Rights Reserved

About Carole Holden

Carole Gelm Holden is "The Media Fairy," an Eternal Optimist and Believer in Miracles. By day, she is also a Marketing & Advertising Consultant, Strategist, Media Buyer, Writer, Editor, and Author. Connect with her on Facebook and Google+.


  1. I agree, those TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) can be very annoying. The important point is to remember your audience; in this case, your audience is your customers, and you should be speaking their language. In some cases, though, that language might include jargon. A change in audience means a change in “jargon.”

    For instance, I posted on my Facebook recently about receiving a marketing spam from someone wanting to sell me SEO services for my website. I’m not really trying to promote my site, though — and on top of that, I’ve read and written about SEO for years. Anyway, I used the term “SEO” on my Facebook post — forgetting that some of my friends didn’t know what it meant. Fortunately, one asked, so I could correct my mistake and explain the term. (Search Engine Optimization, or the things one does with and to a website to help it get to the top of Google for the right queries).

    • It’s so easy to forget that even when we’re all speaking the same language, we don’t necessarily use the same vocabulary. Thanks for your comment, Terri.