Advertising has changed a lot of the decades, but certain words are as powerful today as they were so many years ago. In fact, the psychology department at Yale University studied many words in the English language and discovered the following to be the most powerful, especially when trying to sell or persuade. Here then are the 10 words you should always consider using in your campaigns; and if you've been paying close attention, you'll realize three of them are actually in the headline and subhead of this article. Oh, and there are a few words missing from this list that may surprise you. We'll get to that at the end.
The Advertising Power Words List, in Ascending Order:
We all want new, even if it's not really all that new in reality. We want the next new phone model (which is why lines for the latest iPhone (see Trends in Mobile) span the block, despite having very few upgrades). We want new cars, new clothes, new shoes, new tastes, new smells, and we're willing to pay for it. Personally, I think NEW should be higher up on the list. It's a very powerful word that you will see in advertisements and promotions on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
Hands up if you don't want to save time or money. Exactly. Saving money is something that 99% of us want to do. Even the richest of the rich want deals, they just get them on more expensive purchases. If you can genuinely promise to save someone some money, you'd be foolish not to point this out. Of course, HOW you talk about it is just as important as what you're talking about. Do it wrong, and you will come across as either a pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap merchant, or untrustworthy. And as for saving time, well, time is money, which brings us right back to something we all want to save.
8: SAFETY (or SAFE)
A viscous Nazi, played so well by Sir Laurence Olivier in the movie Marathon Man, asks over and over - "is it safe?" We demand safety from our products. We want to know that our investment is safe, or that our children are playing with toys that meet the highest safety standards. We want food that has been inspected, and we want safe choices in clothing and shoes. Now, the question then becomes how to talk about safety. Sometimes, it will be something that naturally comes up, such as baby products or items that are designed to provide safety. But sometimes saying the word "safe" can be negative, as it brings up an issue that is considered a no-brainer. For instance, "our burgers are 100% safe to eat." Well, why wouldn't they be? What's the deal? What are you saying? So, be careful with its usage.
When you have a brand new product, not a new version of an existing product, there's a hump that you need to get over. It's basically "buyer beware," because the customer is dealing with an unknown. They can wait to see what the reviews on the product or service are, or they can ask friends and relatives. But one way to get over this hump is to provide the proof yourself. For instance, a famous cat food brand often used "8 out of 10 cat owners who expressed a preference said their cats preferred it." Wow, 8 out of 10. Must be good, it's proven. I'll try it. As Seen On TV products also do this well, with product demonstrations that prove a point. So, don't just say it, prove it.
This one has multiple meanings. You can be "in love" with something (like new shoes) or you can "love" how well something works or performs - "I love how white it gets my whites." Either way, love is a strong word. Of course, you must be judicious in its use. It's one thing to say "you're going to love the way it smells" when talking about a perfume. It's quite another to say "you will instantly fall in love with our toilet cleaner." Really? No one falls in love with a toilet cleaner (unless, of course, it's part of a very tongue-in-cheek campaign). Remember, love may work well, but don't lay it on too thick.
Did you notice this one in the headline? Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. But it's a prompt that advertisers use to say, "you're going to get something out of this, it's worth your time to keep reading." Or when it comes to product packaging, it's worth trying. Discover is a promise of something more to come. Like unwrapping a gift on your birthday, discoveries always bring a sense of excitement and adventure. And any time you evoke those fond childhood feelings, you're on a winner.
This word is a safety net. Just think of the way you use it in everyday life, and you'll see it's power. "I guarantee I will be home by 5pm" is your way of removing any doubt. "I guarantee to pay you back tomorrow" is an unbreakable promise to make (even though it doesn't always work that way." In advertising, a guarantee is a promise made by a corporation to a consumer, and it's seen as solid. Whatever you do, only use it if you can absolutely back up that guarantee, or your credibility is done. Money-back guarantees are particularly powerful because you remove the risk from trying a new product. And if you're worried about going broke, don't be. Invariably, only a very small percentage of people are so annoyed by a product that they will ask for a refund; and the time it takes to mail off the information is usually too much trouble for them.
3. HEALTH -- Especially powerful when it applies to a product.
This is used a lot these days, and not just when talking about physical health. Perhaps the most commonly-used variation is "improve your financial health," and it works because we all know what good health is. If you can make a promise of good health, be it in a food, service or something else, you are doing well. But again, don't abuse the word. KFC did this when promising their "healthy" Kitchen Fresh Chicken. The consumer is gullible sometimes, but not often, and not to that degree.
Another word used in the headline of this piece, results is a word that also means success. And this word is powerful because it's a promise that helps you rationalize the purchase. "Oh, well if this gets results, it must be worth it." If you "guarantee results" you've just upped the ante. We all want results, whether it's from a household cleaner, our bank manager or the President of the USA. If they deliver, you feel satisfied. If they don't, well, don't expect re-election.
Still number one after all these years, and with good reason, YOU is the most powerful word in advertising for a reason - it's personal. Let's talk about you. You are interesting, and you find yourself interesting. Let's be honest, when it comes to you, you're all ears. If I make a promise to make people rich, you may be interested. If I promise to make YOU rich, that's a different story. You is a word that must be used when talking to your customers, because that's who you're addressing. And when you do that, you're talking about a person's favorite subject. It's so powerful, many writers (especially in direct response) will not use a headline unless it has you in the title. I wouldn't go that far, but you is definitely something that YOU should always consider.
And the missing words? FREE and SEX.
They are still considered to be two of the most powerful words in the English language, but when it comes to advertising, they have been abused so much that they have fallen out of favor with consumers. After all, when was the last time you saw FREE and it really meant FREE? Isn't is usually followed by an asterisk and about ten pages of terms and conditions? And as for SEX, well, it may prompt you to read an article or watch a movie, but in advertising it's far better to use sex appeal, and sexual imagery, than the actual word.