Why using malaphors in B2B marketing isn’t rocket surgery


Adam Ketterer


17th May 2022

Here at Beneath basecamp, we‘re big believers in bending literary rules, indulging in wordplay, and exploring lesser-known figures of speech to give B2B content more oomph.

And it’s led us to ponder the potential value of inserting what might seem like deliberate errors in our B2B content. Specifically, we’re thinking about malaphors *right clicks Add to Dictionary*.

Before we go any further, let’s loop back and close the circle on the term in question.

What’s a malaphor, and what’s it for?

A malaphor is a blend of a metaphor and a malaprop (a mistaken word used in place of a similar sounding one). In other words, a malaphor is a mash-up of two figures of speech – a potentially original and often humourous turn of phrase. Think: “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.” It’s a bit like a mixed metaphor, although those are usually nonsensical and accidental.

If you’re curious to dig a little deeper, and you have time to burn, search for the literary characters Dogberry or Mrs Malaprop. They constantly mix and mash up their words, sometimes simply for fun or comedic effect. But often their phrases have (un)intended consequences – like highlighting their own flaws and shortcomings.

Okay, that’s fine for Sheridan and Shakespeare (those of you who know your literature might be thinking). But why would you intentionally make a linguistic faux pas in B2B content? Especially if it risks making you (and, more importantly, the brand you’re writing for) sound a bit foolish – ignorant, even.

Well, how about grabbing the attention of your audience by the horns? Malaphors might make a B2B message stickier and stick-outier, if that’s a thing. When you’re selling something, you might find you’re able to underline a message with an original spin – think word upcycling.

Business speak with forked tongue

Workplaces lap up clichés like an all-you-can-eat buffet, so it’s no surprise most B2B marketing is riddled with them. Some days it feels like people only take a moment away from boiling oceans and criss-crossing chasms so they can drink the Kool Aid. Our working lives are peppered by buzzwords and phrases you won’t find elsewhere. But once in a blue-sky-thinking moon, they can merge miraculously to create wonderful new meaning.

In a world oozing with overclaims and obfuscation, malaphors stick out like a sore throat. Inadvertent or intentional (as we’re proposing here), they can make a message more memorable and impactful than copying and pasting the magnolia wallpaper of business clichés. Nope, the irony of making a business case for using malaphors isn’t lost on us either!

Tread with caution

We know what you’re thinking. Cliché and humour in technology B2B marketing? Don’t go there. When you try too hard, you fail at funny. And the not-so-funny thing about funny is that it doesn’t travel well across cultural and language barriers.

It goes without saying that it’s best to employ malaphors sparingly (if at all). So please avoid using this article as the full nine yardstick, because less is more when it comes to releasing a malaphor into the wild.

But maybe there’s room for the odd, hackneyed, erroneous anti-phrase to breathe new fire into tired B2B clichés?

So without further ado about nothing, let’s knuckle down to pull our socks up and make the case for the malaphor’s red-carpet moment.

Here’s a list of malaphors you can use in your B2B marketing – including a swathe of examples (content) and a smorgasbord of scenarios (context) for you to try them out at home.

23 B2B malaphor mash-ups 

1. You’ve hit the nail on the headline.

Ideal for: praising your amazing copywriter’s remix skills.

2. The medium is the message in a bottle.

Ideal for: social media gurus who talk about cumulative PR.

3. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it think outside the inbox.

Ideal for: geeing up your creative teams to generate more ideas from the brief and encouraging them to get away from their screens.

4. Who dares wins hearts and minds.

Ideal for: encouraging a client to choose the riskiest creative route – an obviously heavily ironic delivery of the line is a 100% requirement.

5. Boiling the Kool Aid.

Ideal for: reminding us to make the most of those impromptu kitchen chats, if you remember what they are/were, and get some perspective.

6. There’s always a seat at the table when you’re building the plane in mid-air.

Ideal for: keeping lines of communication open when a colleague is working in a highly pressurised environment.

7. We need to get all our ducks on the same page.

Ideal for: tense meetings when you need to get back to the point. And who doesn’t love an upcycled duck-based malaphor?

8. It’s all water under a duck’s back.

Ideal for: extending your duck-inspired repertoire with a slightly passive-aggressive retake on letting bygones be bygones.

9. That’s thrown a red herring into the works.

Ideal for: putting a weirdly confusing yet somehow reassuring observation out there which prompts the question, “So, we’re OK to ignore it, right?”.

10. Don’t shoot the gift horse.

Ideal for: making a light-hearted disclaimer when you’re bringing bad news or letting someone down gently.

11. How long’s a piece of cake?

Ideal for: clever reminder that even simple things take time to do well.

12. That’s a whole new ball of worms.

Ideal for: icky description that more than underlines the risk factors involved.

13. You took the words right off my chest.

Ideal for: expressing relief in those glad-you-said-it-cos-we-were-all-thinking-it moments.

14. Let’s live to cross that bridge another day.

Ideal for: keeping everyone focused on the task in hand with a mildly heroic, James Bond-style theme.

15. Let’s not mince around the bush.

Ideal for: reminding us that life’s too short for mincing around bushes, obviously.

16. I have too many plates in the air.

Ideal for: when you’re so busy that you don’t know if you’re juggling plates or spinning balls. Hold it, reverse that.

17. To make an omelette you need to break a leg or two.

Ideal for: settling those pre-match nerves when all the world’s a stage and you’re up next.

18. Take the world by cloud.

Ideal for: Accenture. And if it’s good enough for them, who are we to argue?

19. This is a golden opportunity on a silver platter.

Ideal for: bigging-up those double-whammy, too-good-to-miss opportunities.

20. Look what the cat dragged out of the bag.

Ideal for: when your hungover colleague turns up on time looking like a million dollars.

21. I shot myself in the foot in my mouth.

Ideal for: the conversation-killing line you need when you’re aware you’re digging a hole but can’t stop talking.

22. Having a pie in the sky and eating it too.

Ideal for: exuding self-awareness when you know the thing you want to happen isn’t going to happen.

23. Don’t sweat the small potatoes.

Ideal for: focusing on the things that matter most, like the big potatoes.