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Marketingspeak: The Unlikely Origins of Five Common Marketing Terms

Marketingspeak: The Unlikely Origins of Five Common Marketing Terms | Social Media TodayMarketing lingo has broad and varied origins. Hearing the provenance of the first three terms on our list – the Industrial Age, Yiddish, parliamentary government – you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re about to begin a lesson in European history. You've likely used or heard all five terms below - but did you ever stop and wonder where they come from? Being a marketer and wordnik myself, I did. Here are five of my favorite stories behind the marketingspeak we all use.


A boilerplate is a description of your company or organization, designed to be used over and over without change - anyone who's written a press release has added this short paragraph to the bottom of the page. But what do a boiler, or a plate, have to do with PR? ‘Boiler plate’ originally referred to the small metal plate that identified the builder of a steam boiler.

The term was borrowed by the printing industry where plates of text for widespread reproduction, such as advertisements or syndicated columns, were cast or stamped in steel (instead of the much softer and less durable lead alloys used otherwise) ready for the printing press and distributed to newspapers around the United States. They came to be known as ‘boilerplates.’

The only marketing term borrowed from heavy industry? I think so.


Every event manager knows the term - if you've ever been to a trade show, you have probably collected tcotchke, more commonly known as giveaways. (Some people call them swag, which is sometimes written as 'schwag', though that spelling carries with it a drug-culture connotation, and should never be written in all caps, as that's the type of baseless guess that too many marketers are guilty of.)

The term is the Yiddish word for ‘toy’ or ‘trinket,’ and commonly pronounced ‘chach-ka’ or ‘chach-kee,’ but no one in marketing's ever really sure how to say this word. Or spell it. Here are just some of the accepted spellings: tshotshke, tshatshke, tchachke, tchotchka, tchatchka, tchachke, tsotchke, chotski, and chochke.

White Paper

White papers are a staple of B2B marketing. We write them to explain complicated topics or products to our customers. Marketers read them to try and glean what our competitors are really doing. Mostly we skim them.

Have you ever wondered why they're called white papers? Since most documents are printed on white paper, the modifier ‘white’ seems redundant and too generic to differentiate from other documents.

The term was actually coined by the British Government to distinguish shorter informational documents with white covers from the formal legislative documents sent to Parliament with blue covers – called “blue papers.” The term was adopted by industry in the 1990’s to mean any short informational paper.

So for all of you who barely finish reading eight- to ten-page white papers, just be glad B2B marketing didn’t adopt the longer blue papers…

The Funnel

The funnel is a shorthand term for describing the route by which prospective customers, or prospects, become customers. The visualization of the process looks like a funnel - a larger number of prospects go in the top and are reduced to a smaller number of customers who come out the bottom. Marketers talk about the demand funnel. Sales managers track the sales funnel daily. So who came up with the funnel visualization in the first place?

Marketingspeak: The Unlikely Origins of Five Common Marketing Terms | Social Media TodayArthur Peterson, a marketing and sales executive in the pharmaceutical industry, coined the term in his book Pharmaceutical Selling, Detailing, and Sales Training. Peterson wrote, “The progression through the four primary steps in a sale, i.e., attention, interest, desire and action, may be compared to that of a substance moving through a funnel.”

Peterson’s funnel was dissected horizontally into four steps: A-I-D-A (attention, interest, desire, action). The concept has stuck, and nearly every sales executive learns it early on in his or her career. The picture above is how the first sales funnel looked in 1959.


The media have a love-hate relationship with PR agencies. Agencies bring them stories, but editors are conflicted about being “pitched.” A flack is their derogatory term for a press agent or pitchman.

If you work for an agency and resent this derogatory term, just be thankful it wasn’t named after you. You see, the term has nothing to do with shrapnel or criticism. It named after the “energetic” movie publicist George Flack.

As marketing changes and grows, we will continue to innovate, and no doubt borrow terms from other fields (we’re still debating where the term ‘cookie’ came from). The rich history and broad influence are part of what makes being a marketer so much fun.

Are you a marketing etymologist? Do you sometimes wonder about marketingspeak? Are there other terms out there with interesting histories? I’d love to hear about them.

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