“If Stephen jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
When I was at school, that’s how my Mum used to point out that just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t make it a good idea.
I hated to hear it, of course… but all these *cough* years later, at least some of Mum’s wisdom must have stuck. Following the crowd feels like the lazy option, and I look around me sometimes and just think… “really?”
Lately, it’s a bit like that with marketing and PR copy.
Everywhere I look, I see the same words, repeated over and over and over… almost without thinking… until they’re virtually meaningless.
And of course, being a contrary old curmudgeon, that’s reason enough for me to swear off them forever (well, there are exceptions, but you get the idea).
If you’re a copywriter, I challenge you. Join me in consigning these four tired, pointless relics to the copy graveyard, where knackered old words go to die (naturally, I’m picturing something a bit like this).
Likewise, if you’re a marketing or PR client, look out for these words. They might mean your agency is getting lazy. There are lots of words available. Are these really the best ones to entice and convince your customers?
(And if you’re a journalist, and someone uses one of these in an interview, just smirk at them. I dare you.)
Four words you’ll see everywhere… except in my copy:
Is there a blander, less descriptive word available? Whatever you’re trying to sell me is just a thing you made. It’s a thing in a box. It could be anything. How many better options are there to actually tell the reader something about your product?
Worse, “product” is a word from the seller’s perspective, not the buyer’s… it describes an output, not an acquisition. When was the last time you went out to buy some products?
Last year I had to use “products” in a strapline – there really was no better word available in that context. I know, because I spent every waking moment, desperately trying to find something – anything – else.
Because, as a customer, the only thing the word “product” actually tells me is that you don’t really care.
(NB: exceptions include haircare, where the word has a specific, jargon usage)
To me, solution is a perfectly nice, well-meaning word, with a respectable upbringing, that just fell in with a bad crowd.
One day, some bright spark thought: “We don’t just sell stuff… we actually find out what the customer needs, and adapt our offer to that. We find a solution to their problem. We sell solutions.”
I mean, seriously, have you seen the Vicks slogan?
“We start with solutions, not problems.”
Hello?! Vicks? You sell MEDICINE! If ever there was a company that should start with problems, it’s you.
(And, while I have your attention, I think an apostrophe would be a great look. Just saying.)
Just like “product”… when was the last time you decided to buy a solution?
Funnily enough, I do have a client that sells bottles of chemicals. Now that would be a great use of the word “solution”. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.
It’s not the word that’s the problem here. It’s just the usage. Everyone seems to have completely forgotten what it means:
“We are specialists in all aspects of…”
Right, stop there. No, you’re not. By definition, you’re a generalist.
A specialist isn’t someone who does everything. It’s someone who does one thing – ideally, really, really well.
And if we’ve forgotten what the word means, then how can it convey anything? It serves no purpose, except to sound vaguely impressive if you don’t think about it too much.
Plus, I’ve heard a rumour some spam filters don’t like it (for the same reason that people in Scunthorpe have email issues). That might be outdated or inaccurate information, but if it helps to stop copywriters ruining a perfectly good word…
(NB: you could, of course, say “We employ specialists in all aspects of…”)
I’ve saved the best for last. Nothing turns me off faster than an organisation that talks about how passionate it is.
Passion isn’t something you talk about. It’s something you express. It shows in what you do.
Suddenly, everybody under the sun says they’re passionate about something. A quick scan of Google shows companies who claim to be passionate about flowers… passionate about fish… even passionate about refuse collection.
And the funny thing is this: the people and companies who talk about passion the most are usually the ones who demonstrate it least… until it has the empty ring that “we are committed to…” took on a few years ago. They’re not words that mean anything – just a meaningless verbal tick.
Don’t tell me about your passion. Impress me with it.
I could go on – but this blog’s much too long already. And, besides: I’m sure you probably have a few pet hates of your own. Pop them on the comments: we’ll compile a list and fire it into the heart of the sun.
The moral of the story is this: stop once in a while, and think about what you’re reading, saying… or, more importantly, writing. Are you going through the motions, churning out the same old, just because it’s what you always say… or what everyone else does?
Clients need to raise their expectations – and copywriters need to raise their game.