Is it true there are certain words that you should never use in advertising?

By Tony Attwood

For once I am going to make life easy for you and give you the answer immediately by saying “no”.  So now you don’t have to read on. But as you are still here I will go a little further.

The notion that there are words one shouldn’t use originates from English teachers who like rules and regulations and are averse to experimental creative writing (including, indeed, my A level English teacher at school who wrote on my report “What this boy does to the English language should be a criminal offence”.)

However the simple fact is that people who use the language to sell things have their work judged by only one criteria – did the piece you wrote sell as well as you hoped?  And if not there are but two ways to look at the work…

The first is to look at the overall style and approach, considering perhaps if it was too light-hearted or too heavy-handed in its style.  Might, perhaps, a more gentle “we’re all in this together” style have been more appropriate rather than a more dictatorial approach?

The second is to look at individual words and see whether they clutter up the copy and make it look too much like everyone else’s advertising, whereas the best selling technique is to make one’s advertisements stand out from everyone else’s.

Now one approach that is adopted sometimes is to argue that every word should add to the meaning and the power of the presentation, and if it doesn’t the writer should take that word out.

This takes us into the Pinterest approach of reducing the entire English language world to lists – in this case lists of words you should delete. I’m not against this as such, for going through copy and deleting all words of a certain type can make the text much tighter and more fun.

Plus doing this can challenge one’s whole style and approach – which is never a bad thing.

Thus you might try going through an advert you have written and remove words such as those listed below (a list which I found in a piece on how to write in Pinterest).

Absolutely, Actually, Basically, Begin, Begun,Completely, Definitely, Definitively,

Literally, Just, Probably, Quite, Rather, Really, Somehow, Somewhat, Start, That, Then, Totally, Very, Virtually.

Of course, the other approach is to have fun with the language and take all those words and use them in alphabetical order to see what you end up with.  For example…

It is absolutely not a good idea to use “actually” when writing adverts, basically because if you begin with such a word you find you have begun with what may be completely and definitely the wrong style and approach.  

Definitively the best way forward is to avoid “literally,” just as you probably are quite inclined to be rather reluctant to stress that really, somehow, one way or other, you are somewhat inclined to start saying that if the reader buys your product then you can easily get totally lost very quickly and have virtually no sense in what you are writing.

OK – that is fairly bonkers, but my point is, when writing to teachers do not obey any rules that people who want to tell you how to write give you, other than these…

  1. You must grab attention: blandness does not help and if you haven’t got the reader’s attention in the first five seconds, you won’t get a sale or an enquiry.  I’ve often used the phrase “grab the teacher by the throat” and I still keep that in mind when writing adverts aimed at teachers for companies that are kind enough to ask for my advice.

  2. Obey the rules of grammar and spelling except where breaking them for effect – and even then take care because these are teachers to whom you are writing.

  3. You have to be different from your competitors.  Just because another company advertises in a particular way that does not mean that you should do the same.  Indeed doing something very different usually brings in bigger sales.

  4. Hold your readers’ attention so that in the end they move with excitement and enthusiasm onto your website.

  5. Never use everyday concepts such as, “I know you are busy so I’ll be quick.”  Everyone has seen these 1000 times before and thus they are dead boring.

There are many more suggestions I could make – but the best way to find what works is either to compare the results of one advertisement with another or to buy into one of our services such as the 4 Email programme and ask me or one of my colleagues to undertake a review of your advert.

And in case you don’t feel like asking for my help (which is fair enough) allow me to offer a hint.  The most common reason for the failure of an advert is that the web page that the advertisement links to does not flow directly from the advert.

Put the benefits in the advert, and follow that with the features on the landing page.  And if you want to check that out with me, I’ll be delighted to write you out a free review.  Just send over the email to – he’ll pass it to me, and I’ll get straight back to you.

If you would prefer to chat first it’s 01604 880 927, or to read about the 4 Email programme, do have a look at our webpage


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