Technobabble belongs on Star Trek, not in advertising

I’ve long had a massive dislike for the use of scientific and pseudoscientific terminology in advertising. It seems like 95% of the time either words are misused or they’re made up, like when Star Trek characters argue about linear neutrino controllers or the sonic flux array.

Does anybody else remember Texaco’s “star molecule” commercial? Did anybody ever figure out what that actually meant? Every time that commercial came on, you could hear my teeth grinding from a mile away.

I think there is such a thing as a star molecule but I have no idea what it is or how it might possibly make my car run better. I suspect most people don’t. So, even if the star molecule is a legit thing, its use was a load of horsepucky.

This weekend, I’ve been writing descriptions for auction items (the kids’ preschool has a big auction fundraiser every year) and I reached the entry for”StemSational™”.

The world’s first Bio-Hydrolyzed Skin Regeneration Serum created from Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells


Okay, I’ll bite. Raise your hand if you know what mesenchymal stem cells are and you’re not an MD. ::looks around:: That’s what I thought. So putting that statement on their front page is intended to awe you with science. “Oooh, it’s made with something I can’t understand, so it must work!”

My question is: What percentage of people fall for that ploy? Do we even know the answer to that question?

(First person to say “Oh, the advertisers wouldn’t do it if they didn’t know it works” will get hit with a clue bat and a five-hour rant on Hollywood’s firm belief that men won’t pay to see a movie with a woman in the leading role and comic book editors’ firm belief that girls don’t like comics. I don’t recommend you get me started.)

And if people do fall for technobabble and assume the $300 per ounce bottle with mesenchymal stem cells must be lots better than the $3.00 bottle of moisturizer from CVS, how do we fix it? Do we try to fix science education? Do we try to teach people critical thinking? Do we come down hard on advertisers using jargon? I kind of like all of the above.

For the record, however, I would favor any plan that let me slap advertisers with a wet noodle if they try to snow me with “star molecules” and stem cells.


About mamamara

I'm a 40-something, work-at-home mother of two. I'm pro-vaccine, pro-medicine, pro-science, and an avid reader of information about all of the above, and I want to combine my love for my children with my love for science. So here we are!
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