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12 words you must never, ever, ever, ever use in marketing copy

No Excuses!
Here are words and phrases you should avoid, no matter what, when you’re writing marketing copy: Wishy-washy buzz kills that’ll destroy the best call to action. All of these words, and others like them, exist to let us be noncommittal.
Marketing is not a place to be noncommittal! So avoid these words:
fairly (as in ‘fairly decent’)
kind of
pretty (as in ‘pretty much’)
And, as a bonus, my most hated: “like”
Because, like, when you start saying like stuff about things and using ‘like’, you start to sound sort of, I dunno, unsure. Insincere. Like, you’re hiding something, even. It’s rampant in our spoken language. Please, let’s wipe out this horrific plague before it spreads to the written word.
Shortest post of the year…

Related or not, here I come

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. This was a fairly decent post, Ian ๐Ÿ™‚
    No I agree, the words you have listed gives the impression, that you are not quite sure, whether your product is worth buying – so why should the customer be interested?

  2. Great post Ian – you wouldn’t believe how many times we see the use of ‘flimsy’ terminology that is not a call to action more a whisper in the wind.
    Be positive, be clinical and know in your own mind exactly the message you are trying to communicate. The content should then speak for itself!

  3. Your advices sound “quite” obvious, but working in the business, every day I see people non respecting them. thanks.

  4. Can I add two more to the list?
    I positively hate these two.
    There must always be a better solution to using these generic words in copy!!!

  5. Heh!! Weasel Words! Work with a corporate legal department, and you’ll run into boatloads of Weasel Words. Legal is the King of Weasel Words — including my favorite: “helps.” As in: “Blah-blah technology helps wick moisture from your skin…” Dang it, either it wicks the dang stuff or it doesn’t! (Grrr, grrr.)

  6. @dianeski As a recovering lawyer I can second your opinion. Don’t be too hard on legal though – a lot of it is because people will file class action suits because you didn’t use the word ‘helps’. It’s frustrating as hell, trust me.

  7. Great list.
    How about these two:
    possibly and probably (as in possibly our best service yet).
    I think the use of these words stems from our fear of commitment.

  8. I love reading your blog Ian, you have a way of writing that always makes me smile. It’s “like” I can hear you speaking out loud.

  9. Brian Clark of Copyblogger pointed me to this and I have to say your attempt at putting together a fairly decent list has been somewhat successful.
    In fact I kind of agree with it.
    In fact I may adopt it because I am pretty certain it could be relatively, not to say somewhat, useful.
    If though, it proves to be less than useful then I am relatively sure it may be something I could refer to for reference of some kind – if not generally, then sometimes. Perhaps often.

  10. You have it backwards. It’s the people who refuse to qualify anything they say who sound the most insincere. Insincerity and uncertainty are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

  11. I have always kept a list of power words TO use, but I had never thought of a list of words not to use. My husband says these sorts of words (especially “like”) are an infection in our language. I’ll have to tell him you call it a plague.

  12. Hi Ian,
    As you noted in your above comment, in some circles, the words ‘may’ and ‘can’ have to be used. This is especially the case when referencing medical treatments and pharmaceuticals. But yes for black and white products, the copywriter needs to ensure they are using solid language.

  13. I would add ‘even’ when it is in adverb form
    It is an ‘attack’ word that implies an us vs them mental image. That you are not with the ‘cool kids’ in the ‘us’ group.
    “Even marketing people should know that!!!”
    Intimates that you are group ‘marketing’
    and that group ‘marketing’ is somehow inferior
    Basic translation: every body knows this -why is group ‘marketing’ the only one too dense to get it!
    Voila – an attack on group ‘marketing’
    Do you want to call your customers dense????

  14. hey Ian,
    Any copywriter that used those words wouldn’t be working for me for very long. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I would put it another way… if you have to “qualify” your claim, you shouldn’t use it!
    At least, I kind of think this probably might be a pretty good way of maybe saying it…
    ๐Ÿ™‚ Charles

  15. Ian, Just discovered your blog today – great list! FWIW, I noticed when I started blogging how much I relied on certain adverbs, another descent into weak writing. I’m working very hard to cure myself of this extremely lazy and poorly considered “ly” dependency. ๐Ÿ™‚

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