“Duh” is becoming my prevailing reaction to a lot of what gets reported as news and consumer insights today.
According to Merriam Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, “duh” is an interjection used to express feigned ignorance or a level of derision to a statement, spoken or published. Mostly used to indicate something is all too obvious or self-evident.
I find myself saying it. A lot. I know it’s not elegant. Or sophisticated. Or polite. Certainly not a professional way to evaluate my colleagues’ insights. At least not out loud. Yet I’m saying or thinking it more and more, and more often these days. It’s becoming my default reaction to reading a lot of self-evident rubbish that gets published in professional magazines and online platforms every day. I’m not talking about fact-based reports from surveys. No, in this instance I’m duh-ing the stuff that’s just a waste of ink, or whatever digital words are made of. A waste of time, certainly.
Anyway, I’ve found myself saying “duh” so much that I wondered where I had gotten the word from. Sure, it’s part of the cultural lexicon. Now. But still. I wasn’t taught it in school. Certainly not at home. So where did it come from? Well, researchers research, so I did.
First, I thought it might be etymological. You know, something related to some word-origin or the historical development of a phrase, but that line of inquiry lead nowhere. Next it occurred to me to follow cultural evolutionary paths of expressions. And that’s where I struck gold! It turns out the word “duh” is only 79 years old. Onomatopoeic in origin, the expression comes from a cartoon. No, really, a cartoon.
A 1943 Looney Tunes cartoon, part of the Merrie Melodies series produced by Warner Bros. during the golden age of American animation. The title was “Jack Wabbit and the Beanstalk,” so you can probably guess the storyline, but a brief precis for anyone who can’t. It was a parody of the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk starring Bugs Bunny It was directed by Isadore “Friz” Freleng. Mel Blanc did the voices.
The cartoon opens as if it’s going to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. But at the top of the beanstalk it’s Bugs Bunny chopping down a giant carrot in the giant’s Victory Garden. (The cartoon was produced during World War 2 and Victory Gardens were part of the war effort). The giant is incensed that Bugs Bunny is stealing his vegetables. Here’s first two lines of dialogue:
Bugs Bunny: Eh, what’s up, doc?
Giant: Duh, caught you choppin’ up my victory garden, huh? Well don’t try nuttin’ funny cuz I got you covered!
The “duh” was intoned to express the dim-wittedness of the giant as part of Blanc’s voice characterization and is used throughout the cartoon. The rest of the cartoon has the giant chasing Bugs and Bugs outwitting the giant in that what-you-probably-grew-up-with Looney Tunes fashion. If you’re interested, you can watch the cartoon here.
So? Well, “duh” is becoming my prevailing reaction to a lot of what gets reported as news and consumer insights today. And listen, I know media properties need to feed the 24/7/365 information and insights maw, but, come on! I have a stack of “Duh” articles sitting on my desk and it gets higher every week. Here are two headlines from very recent pieces. I’m not turning a spotlight on the specific publications or naming authors. The quality of mercy is not strained, even in the marketing and research industries. But see what you think.
“With COVID it’s almost like 2020 never ended.”
“Consumers in 2022 are anxious, uncertain, and stressed out.”
I duh-ed each of those.
But it’s not just headlines. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to bad headline writers. The duh-worthy also shows up in here’s-the-bottom-line-statements like, “The bottom line for brands is to respect their consumers.” So, yeah. Duh.
The ones I most-often find duh-worthy are the “5 Ways To (FILL IN THE BLANK)” columns and articles. And sure, it’s the nature of 21st century publication time and space that they’re typically 800 words, an introduction, one paragraph for each of the five things, and a closing statement. But how about a little thought leadership? Or just a little thought?
Why the griping? Well, these are professional publications I’m talking about. Or supposed to be. Not tweets. Not personal blogs. These aren’t chapters in Marketing 101 textbooks. These are respected industry voices. Or supposed to be. And yeah, people should be able to share their consumer insights and teach and pass on knowledge to a new generation of marketers and researchers. But not duh-worthy stuff. Not to professionals. OK, here’s what I’m talking about. From a major, major industry publication. No specific category or sector specified.
Headline: Five Ways to Acquire Customers In 2022.
Introduction: Marketing to prospective customers will be more difficult in 2022. Duh.
1st Paragraph: You need to have a conversation with your customers. It’s important to talk to them. Duh.
2nd Paragraph: Collect customer data because data is important and could be useful. Duh.
3rd Paragraph: Customers are different, so segment them. Duh.
4th Paragraph: Customer journeys will differ segment-to-segment, so you need to identify the segments. Duh
5th Paragraph: If you have a conversation and collect customer data and segment your customers and figure out their customer journeys you can better align your marketing efforts. Duh.
Closing statement: 2022 will be tough so if you do everything right you will create a process to drive customer acquisition. Double duh for the “if you do everything right” conditional advice.
So, if you’re a publication or platform that purports to report news and consumer insights, that’s what you should do. According to Merriam Webster, “news” is new or noteworthy information and “insights” are ideas that provide an accurate and deep understanding of a category or an issue. Not reprocessed, secondhand, intuitively-obvious, common knowledge.
I can’t tell you how much I’m hoping you said, “duh” to that last paragraph!
Robert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success. Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.