How McCann invented the word 'Phubbing' for Macquarie Dictionary 'A Word is Born' campaign

phubbing.jpgThe word 'Phubbing', coined to describe the uniquely 21st century phenomenon of ignoring the person in front of you in favour of your phone, has reached more than 300 million people and sparked global discussion around mobile phone etiquette.

Today, McCann Australia and Macquarie Dictionary unveil an online short film that documents the birth of this word, in tandem with the launch of Macquarie Dictionary's Sixth Edition.


The short film, entitled A Word is Born, is the culmination of a journey that began at 4.22pm on 22 May 2012 at the University of Sydney, when a team of language experts first coined the word 'phubbing'.

The campaign proves that language is always evolving therefore an up-to-date dictionary is essential. McCann Australia executive creative director John Mescall and group account director Adrian Mills devised the strategy in early 2012 with Susan Butler,publisher and editor of Macquarie Dictionary recruiting the team that created the word phubbing.

The release of 'A Word is Born' celebrates the launch of the Sixth Edition of the Macquarie Dictionary, Australia's national dictionary. The film, housed on a YouTube channel, takes the audience through the journey of the word from the moment of inception to adoption and is the first time this process has been deliberately filmed and documented.

Says Susan Butler, publisher and editor, Macquarie Dictionary: "Over the years people have often asked me 'How does a word get into the dictionary?' I explain that the word has to have some kind of acceptance in the community, an acceptance that seems to come immediately to some new words but is forever denied to others. The rise of phubbing as an original coinage has been a wonderful illustration of the process by which my word becomes your word becomes our word until finally it is a word that belongs to us all."

Says John Mescall said: " 'A Word is Born' is a love story about words, and how incredible they are. We live in a highly visual age, but I believe words still hold enormous power. Through this campaign, we want people to fall back in love with words, and the very idea of owning a dictionary. To our knowledge, this is the first time the birth of a word has been captured on film, and then tracked as it spreads throughout the world. We suspected this was a word the world needed and it's been so gratifying to see the difference a single word has been able to make. Misuse of smartphones in social situations has been a problem for a while now, but it wasn't until the world had a word to describe that behavior, that people really starting talking about the issue. Our aim is twofold: help the world address a growing social problem, and at the same time, help the guys at the Macquarie Dictionary sell copies and subscriptions. Hopefully, it's good for the dictionary and good for everyone."

The campaign kicked off on 29 August 2012 when the website launched, introducing the message that 'phubbing' is a social scourge and people of all ages, all nationalities and either sex, offend at some point.

The website and accompanying Facebook page were presented as the brainchild of 23-year-old Alex Haigh - an account executive at McCann - with McCann's role being that of concept/asset developer. An important milestone in the campaign came in July when Alex spotted an article on smartphone etiquette published by The Herald Sun and contacted journalist Elissa Doherty with details of the 'Stop Phubbing' campaign, prompting the first of a spate of global articles on 'phubbing'.

Quickly spreading around the world and attracting the attention of over 300 million people, the campaign has prompted global conversations on the subject mobile phone etiquette, by identifying a truth - many of us are frustrated by the behaviour (caused by the proliferation of smartphones), but without a term, it has gone unchecked.

Global media coverage to date stands at 600-plus TV, radio, press and online news outlets.

Executive Creative Director: John Mescall
Creative Director: Pat Baron
Copywriter: John Mescall
Art Director: Pat Baron

Group Account Director: Adrian Mills
Account Director: Alec Hussain
Account Executive: Alex Haigh
Strategy: John Mescall & Adrian Mills

Other contributors: Jake McLennan, Danielle Milazzo

A Word is Born, the Film
Executive Creative Director: John Mescall
Creative Director: Pat Baron
Copywriter: John Mescall
Art Directors: Pat Baron

Group Account Director: Adrian Mills
Account Director: Alec Hussain
Account Executive: Alex Haigh
Agency Producer: Chelsea Nieper

Production Company: Airbag Productions
Executive Producer: Victoria Conners-Bell
Director: Aaron Wilson

Editors: Nathan Mallon, Bill Irving

Stop Phubbing, the Website
Executive Creative Director: John Mescall
Creative Director: Pat Baron
Art Directors: Pat Baron, Matthew Stoddart
Copywriter: Natasha Wood
Designer: Dave Budd
Producer: Pauline McMillan
Group Account Director: Adrian Mills
Account Director: Alec Hussain


T said:

Big shout out to Huey Groves who built the Stop Phubbing website.

Oh said:

That's really quite cool. Well done.

Question said:

Who is the client? McCann's?

@ Phibbing said:

Mate, take a closer look at the credits.

ok said:

as an idea, hasn't everyone tried to get a word into the dictionary? so they did, and they did a "mccan" case study movie to make it cool?. I suppose it's sound, invent a word to get into the dictionary, to show that there's an updated dictionary.


Huuuum looks like not enough research was not done into Phubbing. I Googled the word and the first hit was this in The Urban Dictionary. Admittedly it is spelt with an F not a PH though the pronunciation is no doubt exactly the same. This is directly cut and pasted from the site.

ho ho ho.

1. Fubbing
The act of sticking a finger up someone's bum during sex, either with their express request, reluctant permission, or (more amusingly) completely out of the blue.

Applies to both gay and straight.

Consider it a sort of polite alternative, or a beginner's version if you would, of fisting.

It comes from the acronym FUB - Finger Up Bum.
Derivatives like 'to fub', 'fubbed', 'well I'll be fubbed', 'fubstep' and so on are known to exist and are applicable according to context.
"I was having sex with this 8/10 girl yesterday and out of the blue, she starts fubbing me. No warning whatsoever! At first I didn't know what to do, but she was pretty fit so I just rode it out... Fubbed and proud!"

Ego! said:

Mescal & Mills do it again... does anyone else do any work at McCann... apparently not!!!!

Phascinating said:

Was it really necessary to break every part of the campaign down into separate elements so the same three people can get their names repeated over and over?

Question said:

If language is always changing, then why would I want to be stuck with a printed book? Better ad for an online dictionary, no?

Shame said:

Really nice campaign but what’s with the credits? Why credit yourself so many times? After such success perhaps a bit of humility is in order?

Mecreditmine! said:

They obviously want to make it very, very clear who came up with the big idea and who simply helped them write the crappy website bit. How big of them.

Credits where it's due said:

NIce work Jake.

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