No Lamp, No Genie

No Lamp, No Genie

Are there any magic words that make ad copy work?

If you Google the phrase Magic Advertising Words you’ll come up with somewhere around 275,000 responses. The frightening thing is that so many of them offer lists of words that are alleged to possess the power of a little green man, in an oversized turban, materializing in a puff of smoke from a mythical lamp . Use these words and your ad is practically guaranteed to be a success. Practically. There are successful strategies and proven techniques that can be used to increase advertising effectiveness but, I’m sorry, no magic words.

Sometimes what you don’t say can be as important as what you do. It may not be as dramatic as discovering a genie but there are any number of words and phrases that are best avoided because they are either too vague, too trite, too offensive or are just plain burned out.

The first bit of reverse magic that occurs to me is the use of superlatives. Avoid them. Everyone is number one, the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most or whatever the claim du jour. In terms of hyping quality or service, people automatically expect to receive a helping of both. These drums have been beaten so loudly for so long, that audiences are mostly deaf and blind to them and have reached the point where such superlatives can actually work against you. Your ad time or space is better invested promoting real customer benefits instead of making common, unsubstantiated claims.

The next offense that stuffs the genie back in the bottle is the radio or T.V. spot that refers to, “Everyone”, “All of you” or “Out there”. The classic abuse of my self image occurs when I hear the announcer reading copy which combines two faux pas thereby referring to, “All of you out there”. Excuse me but, out where? I’m not out anywhere as far as I’m concerned. I’m probably seated comfortably in my easy chair or behind the wheel of my car enjoying the program…until now. Suddenly I’m looking around to see where this guy is or if I’ve strayed off someplace I didn’t mean to go! As if adding insult to injury, I’m not only wandering around aimlessly in some thicket, but now my individuality is completely discarded as I become a member of the masses with, “Every one of you out there”. Communication 101 teaches you to connect one-on-one with your audience; it’s pretty basic. Your advertising will be much more effective if you keep personal communication in mind. It’s just you and me, kid!

While you want to be personal on one hand, you don’t want to seem unprofessional on the other. It’s a delicate balance which I have heard best described as, “Polite conversation”. A few years ago, a graphic example of imbalance was pitched to me like a slow, hanging curve ball. My client wanted to advertise his new women’s product for a rash-like condition which can occur when shaving extra close to look well groomed in a bikini. He had already tried his hand at some radio copy which began, “Do you have jock itch?” I strongly suggested a softer approach for the ladies, which used other phrases like “painful irritation” and “uncomfortable little bumps” instead. Once the copy was removed from the men’s locker room, our commercials worked perfectly and his feminine cream began to fly off the shelves! In spite of that, my client lobbied [unsuccessfully], no less than twice more, to inject his old phrase into the new spots which followed. I guess “pride goeth before the sale”!

Another fly in the soup for most people I’ll call “the world of acronyms“. Buzz words and initials may be fine for insiders but potential customers may not yet have the benefit of knowing the intricacies of your product or service. Avoid industry-specific terms and abbreviations or the average ‘Joe Consumer’ may have no idea what you’re talking about. It took me weeks to figure out what an ‘I.T. guy’ is and I’m still not sure exactly what he or she does! ‘M.I.S.’ drove me a little N-U-T-S, T-O-O.

Somewhere, you have probably either read or heard that you should create a sense of urgency in the mind of the reader or listener. This is true and, even better, it works. However, be subtle and weave the feeling into the fabric of your copy. I never fail to break into a broad grin when I hear someone in a commercial ad tell me to, “Hurry in!” or “Rush right over!” or even worse, “Drop everything right now!” Imagine the poor, conflicted housewife in the middle of removing a roast from the oven.

Actually, I could make a long list but I think you get the idea. Common sense rules. Be believable, be direct and remember: the audience you are targeting is not going to be sitting there with pen-in-hand waiting to take notes, as the little pearls you’ve committed to paper unfold before their eyes and ears. In fact, if you’re writing for radio, you may just be one of those unpleasant interruptions the D.J.s like to point out!


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