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Seven Words Overused in Advertising

The Meaning Gets Lost If It’s Applied Everywhere

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Image courtesy of scragz

Words are as crucial to an advertising campaign as visuals, despite the recent trend for visual puns without headlines or copy. At the end of the day, people are not going to buy anything without reading something about it first. It's just common sense.

But, the English language has been used and abused over the last 50 or so years, and some words have certainly felt the effects of advertising. Outrageous claims, unsubstantiated facts and overly-salesy verbiage have created cynical consumers who don't trust advertisers as far as their asthmatic poodle could throw them.

And that's not surprising when you see the list of offenders that are constantly undermining the savvy of the modern consumer, and kicking the English language right in the groin.

1. Amazing

Do you know what the word "amazing" actually means? Well, The Free Dictionary describes it as: "to affect great wonder; astonish; bewilder; perplex."

In short, amazing is quite the word to live up to. Yet we see it every day. Amazing savings. Amazing taste. Amazing offer. Amazing results. And most of the time, the product or service is far from amazing. It's actually quite mundane and pedestrian. If you're going to use amazing, use it very sparingly in your career, and make sure it lives up to its name.

If you're advertising a hair restoring cream that actually works, is under $20 and comes with a lifetime guarantee, that's amazing.

2. Free

The best things in life may be free, but they are few and far between. Most of the time, advertising uses free with gay abandon. They just throw a handy little asterisk next to it with fourteen lines of legal copy explaining what free actually means. Maybe it's a free trial, or a free sample. Perhaps it's free for a few days, then a massive recurring bill kicks in.

If you abuse free, you abuse your customers' trust. And once you've lost that, it's quite the task to get it back. Don't use free unless it can be used without a whole bunch of legal jargon and backpedaling.

3. New (or Improved)

It's something else we see everywhere, especially on packaging or store displays. NEW flavor. NEW size. NEW formula. Improved taste. Improved recipe. Blah blah blah. Many times, the new or improved element is that the company has cut corners and brought out a new, smaller size in order to make people think they're getting something different, when in fact they're really getting short-changed. This is often referred to as the grocery shrink ray.

New and improved are powerful words, but consumers can soon tell the difference between a genuinely new flavor or size, and some lame repackaging attempt. If you're doing the advertising for this charlatan, do your best to be honest, and if you can't be honest, don't resort to lying.

4. Different

How different is different? In reality, when you tell people you've plumped for a different hairstyle or brand of coffee, they know what you mean. You've changed it up, usually in a noticeable way. In advertising, different can often mean "very very slightly, almost imperceptibly different." In other words, the product or service has added an improvement (or diminishment) so pointless it's not worth talking about. But as any different is better than nothing at all, agencies will jump on it to make it seem bigger and better. Don't fall into the trap. Unless it's a completely different recipe, or design, leave it to a small piece of body copy.

5. Incredible

The Incredible Hulk lives up to his name. He goes from a weakling doctor to a gigantic green powerhouse. That's incredible. Do you know what isn't incredible? Knocking 10% off the recommended retail price. But we see "incredible savings" on signs everywhere. Once again, like amazing, incredible has lost its true meaning. Consumers are getting wise to this. They know it's bogus, and much like banner ads, they go blind to these kinds of words eventually. Why waste your time with them? Speak to the consumer like you would a friend. You wouldn't tell a good mate you made them an incredible sandwich.

6. Just

The just in question is the adverb that means "merely, at most, but, no more than, nothing but, only, plainly, simply, and solely." So when some TV barker comes on screen and says it takes "just a few seconds" to wash and clean your new gadget, you expect it to be easy. In the same way, "just three easy payments" should also be simple. But what's simple about making three payments of $19.99? Wouldn't one payment of $60 be easier? Just is a tricky little word advertisers use to put consumers at ease, telling them flat out that it's all fine. But it's often more difficult than that. You can't "just" take a car for a test drive any more, you have to endure high pressure sales tactics. You can't "just call" and expect to be done in a few minutes. Nothing is ever that easy, so don't claim it is.

7. Guaranteed

Pah! Nothing is ever really guaranteed any more. Like free, guaranteed has been used and abused so much that people are wary of any kind of guarantee. It's used in conjunction with other words, so that it destroys its meaning. Case in point, a recent auto warranty ad that claims it is "guaranteed to reimburse you 100% for all covered repairs." That last part is the killer. All covered repairs. So it's basically saying we'll reimburse you if it's covered, which it may or may not be. Don't give anyone a guarantee unless it's ironclad and won't be misleading. If you guarantee a pizza will be delivered in 15 minutes, make sure the pizza shop can live up to the bargain. Otherwise, it's all smoke and mirrors.

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