Toxic Words in Copy.



    If you were to do a Google search of all the copy written by professional copywriters, freelancers, content marketing peeps and business owners – and I mean all the copy, from websites to brochures, to press releases, etc. – I bet there would be about 40 benefit/feature words that would make up 10% of the entire count. Words like “innovative,” “best,” “superior service,” “new” and “% off.” These words as toxic. Overused and over promised, they tend to fall on deaf consumer ears. They inure consumers to other important copy that actually tell a story; the good words that convey a sense of identity and differentiation.

    Play copy editor for a moment. Read you work, circle the words that sounds like copy — that sound like common promise – and remove them.  See what you have. Toxic words when used in a story are more palatable. But in copy or selling – they shut down our brains. This is why storytelling or, as Co:Collective’s Ty Montague puts it, “story doing” is the haps these days.

    Just as playing a favorite song too many times or eating too much strawberry shortcake in one sitting can burn a person out, use of toxic copy words must be carefully watched. Peace.


    Be fresh.


    So I’m reading an article this morning in USA Today featuring interviews with some top hospitality CEOs, and their answers are peppered with language like: “price of entry,” “customer-for-life,” “providing value” and “surprise and delight.” A marko-babble fest.  Not implying these aren’t smart people, they clearly are. What I’m saying is marketing has become filled with terms of art that are nice on the ear but meaningless. 

    Do a Google or Bing search of “whatstheidea+surprise and delight” and if this blog pops up, break out a can of whoop ass. Jargon may be acceptable in meetings but it is the antichrist in external communications. It was copywriting great Walter Weir, I think, who said “if it sounds like copy, it’s good copy.”  Dear old Walter was born in ’06.  The industry has published 10 trillion words copy since then. There is an entire class of ad agencies called “creative hot shops” whose sole reason for being is to break away from Mr. Weir’s premise.

    So what should we do?  Drop the babble.  Invent your own selling premise and selling language. Be fresh. Freshies (Sorry, racing a storm to Whiteface today.) And it is okay to be a little fresh in a non-puritanical sense.  We are at 10 trillion words and counting. There are only so many pairings – as Google will tell you. Peace!



    “The hardest thing to realize in fashion is that the future lies in the past.  The second hardest thing is to forget the past.”    Cathy Horyn, NYT 7/5/12

    These words are true for branding and advertising as well. Creative ideas that break through must be new and unique. Retreads are boring.  Yet, it’s important for ideas to offer some attendant context. It’s easier to remember numbers in patterns; the same is true for ideas.  That’s why alliterations are common idea conventions. ZDNet’s original strategy “content, commerce and community,” for instance.

    How does one explain the Higgs boson (creating matter out of nothing) without some context?  Not very easily. Same thing with string theory.  These are some of the world’s most heady concepts. They need context.  Conversely, how do you give life to a new lemonade that is less sweet, or a cookie dough that is more natural?  As Cathy Horyn suggests “forget the past.”  Find context for selling premise (create bias toward purchase) then be fresh. Really fresh. Uncomfortably fresh.

    Either Walter Weir or John Caples (godfathers of copywriting) once said “good copy sounds like copy.”  That was then.  Seventeen billion words of copy ago. Today fresh wins the day.  Peace.  

    Genetically Engineered Copy.


    There is a new story today that suggests tomatoes have no taste because they’ve been genetically engineered to look good.  Brilliant red tomatoes with nary a color blotch, piled high in our grocery stores because of a gene mutation that has said “buh-bye” to flavor, sweetness and aroma.

    I wonder if advertising has been genetically engineered to look pretty, the result of which has been impeded selling. Have we removed the important selling component of thoughtful copy in favor of pretty pictures?  Has the flavor gone out of our copy. The sensual response that good copywriting can evoke?  I fear the answer is yes.

    To sell one must do more than convey, one must connect and inspire.

    At Cannes, mightn’t we instate a copywriting award?  RU listening creative leaders?  (David  Lubars?) Let’s loose the robo-copy and build more artful selling. Put that on you BLT with light Hellman’s.  Peace!