Let’s rid the world of bad ad copy.
I was having breakfast with a client a while back and he brought to my attention an article in Business Week entitled: Five Words to Never Use in an Ad. Back at my office, I found it online and read it. It was great information. Author Steve McKee explained how there are many meaningless cliches that are simply timeworn, and should be avoided.
Why bad ads happen
There are so many reason why bad ad copy runs in newspaper, direct mail, internet, radio and television. Foremost, there is a lack of marketing expertise from the people who design or write these ads. Most newspaper and internet ad designers have experience in graphic design, not marketing. Most broadcast writers are either salespeople (who’s job is, in their mind, finished when the sale is made) or production people (who’s job is to get the ad produced to time out to exactly 30-seconds).
Next, there are deadlines. When people are in a hurry, time is not taken to write a proper ad. 80% of the time is spent deciding where to advertise, and 20% is spent deciding what to say. It should be the other way around;with emphasis on what you’re telling your audience to do. Cliche words and phrases are the easy way out of deadlines.
Budget cuts are another factor. Gone are the days of copywriters. A lot of this is due to downsizing of media departments. Finally, sometimes the responsibility of ad writing falls upon the owner of the business. This is especially true with small to medium-sized businesses. Their expertise lies in building houses, selling shoes, or practicing law, not writing advertising copy.
The A (as in Avoid) List
Here is an alphabetical list of 100 words and phrases to avoid in your marketing campaign and business correspondence. It’s taken from my experience, automotive, real estate, retail and banking sources, McKee’s article, plus the last six years of Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words. Enjoy, remember, then avoid:
A level playing field. Substitute fairness.
Attention to detail. How can you be detailed without paying attention?
Back by popular demand. Don’t use unless you’re marketing a Broadway show.
Best interests at heart. No, I think you just want to sell me something.
Best Price. Do you really want to compete on price only?
Blowout. Only for tires.
Brainstorm. Substitute think.
Business as usual. Not good. When you coast, you’re usually going downhill.
Business entity. Substitute business.
Celebrating ___ years of service. It’s very overused.
Convenient parking. Cliche.
Core competency. A corporate euphemism.
Corporate underwriter. Substitute advertiser.
Cutting Edge. I’m not impressed.
Cyberspace. Please just call it internet.
Dealer pricing. Don’t indicate you have different levels of pricing, it promotes mistrust.
Dedication. All businesses are dedicated, it’s overused and worn out.
De-install. Substitute remove.
Documentation. Stop trying to impress me. Substitute paperwork.
Dot.com. Out like Enron. Dot.bomb.
Employee pricing. The auto dealers wore this phrase out.
Exceptional. See Excellence.
Experience. As opposed to inexperienced?
Expertise. Substitute expert.
Factoid. Substitute fact.
Factory direct. Interpretation – no middleman.
Final weeks to save. Please just put an expiration date on your offer.
Finest. According to who?
First Annual. No, it’s your inaugural. By year 2, you can call it annual.
Foreign imports. Oh yeah? What if I wanted a domestic import?
Free gift. Stupidly redundant.
Friendly. Most businesses are friendly. No uniqueness here.
Giving 110 Percent. It’s a physical impossibility.
Going out of business sale. Don’t insult our intelligence, you’ll be liquidating for weeks and weeks.
Hassle Free. What’s wrong with the word easy?
Highly unique. Gosh, I didn’t know there were levels of uniqueness.
Hit the nail right on the head. Substitute correct.
Holiday tree. A silly name for what most folks hold as a Christmas tree.
Home of the___. Nobody cares, unless you’re referring to Lambeau Field with a Packer fan.
Huge savings. Always use a percent or dollar amount. It’s too vague.
Impactful. Substitute effective.
In the very near future. Substitute soon.
Information Superhighway. Al Gore retro-phrase.
Integrity. You shouldn’t be in business without it.
Inventory reduction sale. What other purpose is there for being in business?
Largest Selection. Cliche.
Last chance. Right…until next month.
Loaded with options. We know what this means…drop the “with options.”
Locally owned and operated. Just use locally owned. We figure you also operate locally.
Making your dreams a reality. Oh, I thought the genie gave me three wishes.
Mindshare. Substitute attention. This shouldn’t even be a word.
Must see to appreciate. Cheap ruse…just ask them to visit your store.
Nearly flawless. Come on. You were so close to perfection.
Networking. An overused word. Substitute business exchange.
No-brainer. Substitute obvious.
On a daily basis. Substitute daily.
On the same page. Substitute agree.
Once in a lifetime. Cliche.
Outside the box. Substitute differently.
Partly Sunny. Meteorogogists take note: Either I see sun or I don’t.
Pass the savings on to you. Because you can’t just say “Pass the mark-up on to you?”
Past history. Another redundency.
Perfectly Honest. Substitute honest.
Personal Service. All service is personal. That’s why it’s called service.
Pre-owned. Substitute used.
Professional. It has become overused. People expect professionalism. It’s not unique.
Prompt Service. It’s expected.
Pushing the envelope. Substitute daring.
Qualified. You need to expand this generality. Which criteria are you referring to?
Quality. This word is so abused, it means nothing anymore.
Quality of Life. Use well-being.
Quality workmanship. It’s expected.
Reducing headcount. You are just a softie. Substitute firing people.
Service. Too vague.
Service you deserve. We all deserve service. Avoid this phrase.
Serving the ____ area. Cliche.
Setting the Standard. Don’t use unless you’re an olympic athlete.
Skill set. Substitute skills, and stop the corporate-speak.
Take advantage of. Nobody believes this.
Team. This word belongs in sports, not real estate.
Terrible tragedy. What tragedy isn’t terrible?
The Honest Truth. As opposed to the dishonest truth?
The lion’s share. Substitute most.
The most overall. Redundant.
The whole nine yards. Substitute everything.
Talking Points. Invented by some political PR spinster to put a positive note on their press releases.
To Be Perfectly Honest With You. No, please lie to me. This one drives me nuts.
Trained Professional. Exactly how do you become professional without training?
Unconventional business practices. Substitute lying or fraud.
Under new management. Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.
Unique. The word “unique” isn’t unique. Substitute different if possible.
Virtually any. Unnecessary.
Wake-up call. Substitute warning.
Weather conditions. Please just call it weather, and stop adding a word.
Webinar. The geek that coined this word needs therapy.
With the help of. Meaningless words.
Your (fill in the blank) needs. The most shallow phrase in advertising history.
Your Friends. Tom Shane is not your friend in the diamond business, sorry to disappoint you.
Chris Mitchell is the President and Founder of 25-8 Marketing, Inc, a full service advertising agency that plans and implements marketing programs for small to medium-sized businesses. He is a consultant, speaker and author and has worked with hundreds of companies. He has over 20 years of real-world advertising experience, and understands the marketing challenges of the small business owner.