Under the Influence

Words Invented By Marketers

This week on Under The Influence, we explore words invented by marketers. Many of those words found their way into the dictionary and have become part of our daily language, like “Dependability” and “Halitosis.” While some other familiar words like Retsyn and Fahrvergnugen were around for a short time, then disappeared into the annals of commercial history. We’ll also get to the bottom of Corinthian Leather. Hope you’ll join us.

This week on Under The Influence, we explore words invented by marketers. Many of those words found their way into the dictionary and have become part of our daily language.

Words Invented By Marketers

In the history of Hockey Night In Canada, there have been many great play-by-play announcers.

One of the best was Danny Gallivan.

The famous play-by-play man Danny Gallivan (l) and colour commentator, Jr Dick Irvin (r). (hockeyarchives.co)

Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Gallivan was an athlete who excelled at baseball. He began his broadcasting career at a small radio station in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. When the war interrupted, he spent time overseas, then returned to radio as a sportscaster in Halifax, becoming the voice of the St. Mary's junior hockey team.

That's where he was spotted by a CBC Hockey Night In Canada producer. When the regular Montreal announcer fell ill one night, Gallivan was tapped to step in. He didn't know many of the opposing players – then again – it was the first NHL game he had ever seen.

Back in the day, play-by-play announcers worked at rink level, leaning over the boards, as Danny Gallivan is doing here. (hockeyinsideout.com)

Two years later, in 1952, Danny Gallivan became the NHL's Montreal play-by-play man, and would hold that position for 32 years, until he retired in 1984.

The cannonading voice of the Montreal Canadiens for 32 years. (findagrave.com)

Danny Gallivan had an utterly unique style, and a remarkable ability to describe not just the action of an NHL hockey game, but also its moods and momentum.

Without question, he had an original way with words.

For example, Guy Lafleur wouldn't start slowly across the centre line, he would make his way "gingerly" across the centre line.

Goalie Glenn Hall would "kick out his pad in a rapier-like fashion."

Pucks got caught up in Gump Worsley's "paraphernalia."

Henri Richard was firing a "multitudinous amount of shots."

Or there might be a "look of consternation on the countenance of coach Scotty Bowman."

But more than anything, Gallivan is remembered for the words he made up.

Slap shots became "cannonading drives."

A quick 360-degree turn became a "Savardian spin-o-rama."

Spin-O-Rama eventually made its way into Canadian dictionaries, and when a professor once wrote to Gallivan saying there was no such word as "cannonading," Gallivan replied, "There is now."

The world of marketing also has its Gallivanisms.

Over the years, many words have been completely made up by copywriters. Some of those words became nouns, some became adjectives, while others became the names of famous products.

But what you may not know is that many of the words we use in our everyday language began life as advertising copy.

Like any industry, marketing has its own language.

There are familiar phrases:

Act Now!

Limited Time Only!

But that's not all!

There are familiar sales:

Don't miss Black Friday!

Don't miss our Boxing Day Sale!

Don't miss "The boss is away" sale!

And familiar conditions:

On approved credit only!

Must be 18 years of age or older!

Offer ends March 20th!

But the language of marketing has also coined its own words. Where an appropriate noun wasn't available, the advertising industry would often make one up.

Like the word "Dependability."

One of the giants of the advertising industry was one Theodore MacManus.

Theodore MacManus (right) with a young Leo Burnett. (andvertisinginc)

He lived from 1872 to 1940.

MacManus founded two famous advertising agencies, and his work revolutionized the automobile industry.

Cars were his specialty, and he was lucky enough to live in an era where the first automobiles were rolling off the lines. Over his career, he wrote ads for Cadillac, DeSoto, Chrysler, Pontiac and Dodge.

MacManus believed in creating an image for automobile brands. While other advertisers boasted about the technical features of their cars, MacManus wrote about the distinct feel of the brand, and the kind of person who would be attracted to it.

For example, he once wrote a print advertisement for Cadillac with this headline: 

Theodore MacManus' famous Cadillac advertisement - the same one Elvis had framed in his home. (mascola.com)

While the ad contained a small Cadillac logo, the copy never once mentioned Cadillac by name. Instead, the ad talked about how leaders who dare to innovate are open to scorn. That a leader must stop listening to the chorus of naysayers, and "When a man's work becomes the standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few."

It was an interesting piece of writing. Cadillac had just stunned the world with an innovative V8 engine, and it was having some problems, so MacManus responded to the criticism with The Penalty of Leadership ad. It positioned Cadillac as a leader, appreciated by leaders.

The ad only ran once in the Saturday Evening Post, yet is considered one of the best advertisements of all time. Cadillac continued to re-print it for decades. And in the '60s, Elvis Presley, an avid Cadillac fan, felt the ad spoke to him on a profound level, and had a copy of it framed on his wall.

One of the reasons Elvis loved the "Penalty of Leadership" advertisement was because he was a loyal Cadillac buyer. (elviscadillac.tripod.com)

When Theodore MacManus landed the Dodge account in 1914, he looked for inspiration in the letters Dodge owners had sent the automaker. One word kept coming up over and over again – dependable. Dodge owners loved the fact the cars rarely broke down, unlike the temperamental Ford Model Ts of the time.

So MacManus coined the word "Dependability." He called it "…a word that grew out of a fact." The word didn't exist in dictionaries, but MacManus's copy said that any Dodge owner could tell you exactly what it meant.

MacManus coined the word "Dependability" for Dodge ads. (vintage.archives)

MacManus not only turned Dependability into a word, he turned it into a noun - a thing. He made it a definable quality of Dodge automobiles.

It caught on so quickly, it was included in dictionaries by 1930, defined as:


You can still see MacManus's influence in the automobile sector today, with the annual J.D. Power Dependability study, which ranks every car brand based on reliability.

Echoes of Theodore MacManus can still be found in the annual JD Powers "Dependability" study today. (jdpower.com)

That, and the fact you can hear the word Dependability in almost every second car or truck commercial.

Theodore MacManus revolutionized automobile advertising.

And surprisingly, never learned to drive in his lifetime.

The advertising industry created another word for a different category.

Namely – the beer industry.

Beginning in the 1960s, the fine print on Budweiser labels said, in part, that Budweiser had a "drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price."

The word "drinkability" was coined by the beer company. It wasn't a word people used, and it wasn't not found in any dictionaries.

Budweiser coined the word "Drinkability" and used it as a characteristic of its beer. (blog.beeriety.com)

While the word "drinkable" existed, the coined word drinkability did for beer what dependability did for automobiles. It became a noun. And nouns could morph into features that products could own.

Drinkability suggested Budweiser had a smoothness that made it pleasurable to drink more than one – a key marketing strategy that promotes beer consumption. In other words, drinkability became a product quality people were willing to pay for.

In 2008, Bud Light was under pressure from rival light beers Miller and Coors. So the brand launched a campaign based entirely on drinkability as its point of difference:

Drinkability suggested Bud Lite wasn't too heavy, a veiled reference to the slightly more bitter tasting Miller Light, and that it wasn't too light, a knock against the slightly more watery Coors Light. 

Alcohol advertising is highly regulated, and the few words marketers are allowed to use to describe beer are put through the filters of laws, controls and intense industry watchdogs. But the word drinkability was so subjective, so vague and unmeasurable, it was given a free pass.

Think about how many times you've heard the word drinkability in beer advertising, and you get an appreciation for how widespread this made-up word really is.

There are many reasons why marketers have coined words over the years.

Think Uncola – a powerful word 7Up used to position itself against cola giants Coke and Pepsi.

7Up coined the word "uncola" to position its beverage against the leading colas. (earthwormjimfan)

David Ogilvy created the word Schweppervescence to distinguish the effervescent taste of Schweppes from other tonic waters:

When I was growing up, Certs breath mints had a long-running series of TV commercials with a "Two mints in one" theme:

But along with two mints in one, Certs hung its hat on one word: Retsyn.

But what is Retsyn?

It was an interesting marketing strategy from parent company American Chicle – whose other product was Chiclets. The company launched Certs in 1956, and used the word Retsyn in all its advertising for years.

Retsyn sounded vaguely scientific, and Certs framed it as a proprietary ingredient, saying that a golden drop of Retsyn was a "miracle breath purifier."

In reality, Retsyn was homogenized vegetable oil.

Certs with homogenized vegetable oil just wasn't as catchy as a sparkling drop of Retsyn. (gianteagle.com)

But back in the 60s and 70s, many brands used a strategy of "secret ingredients." It was a way to differentiate a product in the marketplace by creating mystery and allure – so critical when so many products are so similar.

"Secret ingredients" suggested that science – not just marketing – made the product unique.

Kentucky Fried chicken had a secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices.

You are looking at the 11 secret herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken. (kentuckyfriedchicken)

Colgate had something called Gardol.

Colgate coined the word "Guardol" to guard your teeth from decay. (stumptownblogger.com)

Crest had Fluoristan.

Crest hung its hat on secret ingredient Fluoristan. (toothepastewars)

Petro Canada gas has Tactrol.

Petro Canada puts something called Tactrol in your tank. (wikipedia.org)

Oil of Olay has a micro-sculpting serum.

Olay offers you something called "micro-sculpting serum." (olayregenerist)

You may laugh, but as I've mentioned before, Charles Darwin proved that even the smallest advantage led to survival of the fittest.

And in marketing, tiny advantages can often make a big noise.

Sometimes, marketers commandeer obscure words and re-fashion them into marketing terms.

That's where Halitosis came from. Even though Listerine had been marketed back in late 1800s as a way to kill mouth germs, it didn't become a runaway success until it turned an obscure Latin term for bad breath into a vaguely-sounding medical condition called "Halitosis."

Listerine commandeered an obscure Latin term for bad breath called Halitosis. (kilmerhouse.com)

Once upon a time Chuck Norris was the ultimate man.

Once upon a time, Chuck Norris was a furry hero. (foxnews.com)

Chuck Norris was also furry.

But years later, when the television show Queer Eye For The Straight Guy came along back in 2003, it coined the term manscaping.

Queer Eye For The Straight Guy coined the term "manscaping" - and made hairless men fashionable. Sorry Chuck. (ew.com)

It was a new word for a new practise of male body grooming. Suddenly, hairless men were fashionable. Shaving brands were quick to jump on the manscaping bandwagon, and began marketing shavers for men who wanted to groom their eyebrows, backs, shoulders and, sometimes, their undercarriages.

Today, manscaping is serious business. A recent Gillette study revealed that over 70% of men now shave or trim a part of their body – other than their faces.

A study by Gillette showed that a high percentage of men shave their undercarriages. (jasonwalley.com)

Speaking of commandeering a word or phrase, did you know that Colgate owns the trademark for "The Tooth Fairy."

It's true. Colgate owns those three words and uses them for dental hygiene education. If you go to Colgate's website, you'll find an entire section on the Tooth Fairy:

Yup, the "Tooth Fairy" works for Colgate. (colgate.com)

As a side note, there is a "Tooth Fairy Index" that charts the annual amount of money the Tooth Fairy leaves under pillows. In 2014, the average was $5.75 per tooth. A 27% increase over 2013. Total amount of cash found under North American pillows last year:

$255 million.

The Tooth Fairy coughs up $5.75 per tooth these days. (time.com)

When Proctor & Gamble developed a new kind of mop in 2001, the first word it wanted to ditch was "mop" – so it hired a branding company to come up with a better name.

The company toyed around with the words "clean" and "wipe," then - playing off the fact this new mop made cleaning a quick chore - they mashed the words "sweep" and "swift" together.

Which created:

The word Swiffer was a mashup of "swift" and "sweep." (londondrugs.com)

Swiffer was a brand new word for a brand new mop that now generates over $1 billion per year.

As we've mentioned in the past, the word Jell-O was created from the words gelatin and jelly. The letter "O" was added for two reasons: First, the letter "O" is appealing to the eye, and second, the odd spelling made J-E-double L-O easier to trademark.

The world Jell-O was coined to be appealing to the eye - as well as the mouth. (jello.com)

While invented words are usually the result of creativity and research, at least one was the result of a flat-out mistake.

When Bombardier launched its new 2-person snowmobile in 1959, it was called Ski-Doo.

The word Ski-Doo was a snafu. (vintagesnowmobiles)

But what you may not know is the snowmobile was originally called the Ski-Dog - a play on the term "dog-sled."

Bombardier then printed up thousands of brochures to promote their new snowmobile – except nobody noticed the typo.

The typo that changed Ski-Dog into Ski-Doo.

So Bombardier just went with it. Creating a new word that would not only brand their snowmobiles – it was so catchy it became a generic word for all snowmobiles along the way.

The word Ski-Doo was so catchy it became a generic term for the category. (ski-doo.com)

You've heard me talk many times about my favourite advertising of all time – the Volkswagen campaign of the 1960s.

Volkswagen coined the strange word Fahrvergnugen. (buzzfeed.com)

It was created by ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, or DDB, for short.

The Jewish advertising agency and the German carmaker were odd bedfellows, but they had deep roots that went all the way back to 1959. Together, they had made the VW Beetle one of the most beloved cars of all time.

Then by 1990, VW sales were in trouble. Japanese and American cars were taking sizable bites out of VW sales. Volkswagen's new director of marketing wanted to fire DDB, but out of respect for the relationship, he gave the agency 30 days to come up with a big campaign idea.

On the pitch day, VW didn't hold out much hope for salvaging their relationship with DDB. Over the last six months, the carmaker had turned down every campaign the agency had presented.

That's when DDB surprised them by presenting the most unusual idea.

It was a single word:


It was a campaign based around a German word that not even the Germans sitting around the table had ever heard before.

Actually, it was a compound word made up of two separate German words:

Fahren - which means "to drive."

And Vergnugen - which roughly translated to "enjoyment."

So Fahrvergnugen meant the joy of driving a Volkswagen.

It was an interesting strategy for VW. One of the key reasons it became so successful in the late 50s was that DDB wisely chose to completely ignore VW's post-World War II German heritage.

But now, faced with an assault from Japanese and domestic cars, VWs "German-ness" was considered a unique selling point.

So Fahrvergnugen was launched:

In the beginning, Fahrvergnugen generated attention. The strangeness of the word caught the public's ear. The day after the launch, the New York Times did a big story on Fahrvergnugen. That night, Johnny Carson talked about it in his monologue.

But while it seemed to catch fire initially, Fahrvergnugen had no staying power. The general public never really understood what it meant, and sales continued to drop.

Soon, Fahrvergnugen spelled the end for DDB, and VW fired the ad agency that had made them famous.

In the marketing world, maybe one of the most famous made-up words was for another automobile.

Eventually, advertising agency DDB was Fahrvergnugened by Volkswagen. (stangbangers)

The year was 1975. The brand was Chrysler.

The early '70s had been a difficult time for the car industry due to a recession and energy crisis. Sales were down dramatically, and Chrysler was no exception.

So the carmaker launched a new model – The Chrysler Cordoba. It was an intermediate-sized luxury coup. The name Cordoba came from a town in Spain, and the car's logo was actually a stylized version of an Argentinian Cordoba coin. The name sounded vaguely Spanish and exotic. What the new car needed was an advertising campaign to announce its arrival.

As fate would have it, Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban was performing the title role in a touring play about a Spanish lover named Don Juan. When the play hit Detroit, Montalban caught the eye of Chrysler and its ad agency, Bozell Jacobs.

Ricardo Montalbano made Corinthian Leather a household phrase. (latimes.com)

Noting the actor's suave presence, and his eloquent Spanish-sounding accent, Chrysler hired Ricardo Montalban to be the spokesperson for the Cordoba.

That's when the world first heard a certain phrase:

And there it was:

Corinthian Leather.

It sounded so luxurious. So exclusive. So… European.

It was made in Jersey.

Corinthian Leather was a term completely made-up by the copywriters at Bozell Jacobs.

But when it was uttered by Ricardo Montalban, his debonair and rolling R's made it sound magical – helping the Chrysler brand to more than double its sales in 1975.

For virtually the entire run of the Cordoba – from '75 to '83 - soft Corinthian Leather was its most celebrated secret.

Until the night David Letterman asked Ricardo Montalban about it on his talk show:

Finally, the Corinthian cat was out of the bag.

Advertising has a voracious appetite.

It eats up descriptive words at an alarming rate. As someone once said, advertising adjectives are like the blank tiles in Scrabble – you can use them anywhere, but they have no value.

New, improved, refreshing, amazing, incredible and revolutionary no longer have any impact in marketing.

A wise adman named James Webb Young once wrote back in the 1940s, that "…exaggeration in ads is due, not to deceit, but a lack of skill in striking a true note. Ad people live too much on the surface of their callings, and need to send their roots further down into the subsoil of life."

I agree with Mr. Young on that. Cliches are too easy, and quite frankly, cliches make a lot of clients happy. And when they don't, marketers often create the words they need.

The upside is that a coined word usually has no set definition, so it's an empty vessel that an advertiser can pour any benefit into. Like Retsyn, Schweppervescence and Corinthian Leather.

But no matter what the word is, the motivation is always the same: To stand out in a crowded marketplace.

And every once in a while, those made-up marketing words do more than just decorate an ad.

Sometimes, they make a cannonading drive right into the dictionary…

…when you're under the influence.