acronymsWhenever I review a creative brief or am on a kick off call, I always find it helpful to remove acronyms from the table. Why? Because depending on where you are coming from, acronyms can mean vastly different things.

When my grandmother used to talk about Christmas but didn’t want me to understand, she used to speak in French. This assured that she could speak freely without worrying if I could understand her. Unless it was a toy that didn’t translate, then my ears would suddenly perk up.

Speaking in acronyms keeps a message exclusive; similar to speaking a different language, so the audience that understands it is relatively small. For a video this may be what you are going for, but more likely if you get too specific you alienate some of the people you’re looking to attract. Like the people who write the checks. For instance you may have an awesome product for electrical engineers but if you speak in Electrical Engineer-i-eese (yes I made that up) with lots of very specific acronyms, the electrical engineer will get very excited. The problem is then you are relying on that electrical engineer to explain why they need your product to their CTO, COO or whoever makes purchasing decisions for new products. A UPS to an electrical engineer (Uninterruptible Power Supply) is very different than what most people identify UPS as (United Parcel Service…y’know “what can brown do for you?”). If that decision maker doesn’t understand the message, never mind the value, then they aren’t making the purchase.

Sometimes there are acronyms that have different meanings for different organizations as well which makes it even more confusing. IRA can be an Individual Retirement Account or the Irish Republican Army. AA could be the Automobile Association as it’s called in the UK, it could be Alcoholics Anonymous or it could even be an Associate in Arts degree. And a POS could be a Point Of Sale or a Piece of Sh*t. Or it could potentially be both, depending upon how bad the Point of Sale system is. So it’s always dangerous to casually drop an acronym into a script unless it is absolutely necessary.

With companies, once you get beyond GMC, AT&T, IBM and a handful of other international brands, not everyone will know who you are talking about. For instance, if you were to mention CVS, many people in the United States would have heard of the pharmacy chain but CVS does not have locations in every state. What if your viewer were in a different country?

There’s always an exception to this rule as well though. As another example, we did an explainer video for Healthcare Recruiters International which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. When you are trying to explain something you don’t want a long name to get in the way of the message. So we scripted a line at the introduction for the company into the video:

“HealthCare Recruiters International, or HCRI, specializes in putting the right people in the right place exclusively for the healthcare and medical industries.”

That way we got the full name out of the way and any references to the company at that point forward could just be referred to as HCRI. It makes for a cleaner and more conversational script that way.

The fact is real people don’t talk in acronyms. Even when you send a text you may abbreviate “BRB” but when you are speaking you say “Be Right Back”. Hopefully. Otherwise if you speak in all short hand and abbreviations you end up sounding pretty ridiculous.

Ultimately if your point is to communicate clearly and efficiently in an explainer video, acronyms do not work at best and at worst they can confuse and alienate the audience you’re trying to help. If you are trying to tell the story of who your brand is or what you do, the last thing you want is to speak in a language your viewer doesn’t understand.



Eric Guerin is the founder of Adelie Studios. He chooses to use his creative powers for good and not evil by helping businesses to better market themselves using animated marketing videos. He can easily be bribed with coffee. Read more of Eric’s posts