Words Used In Ads and What They Actually Mean Pt. 2

Here’s a reprise of something I’ve written previously because I think it’s ripe for an update. The new words are from 6 to 10.

Advertising is the war. Copy is the weapon. Words are the ammunition.

Although copywriters are equipped with an arsenal of words to use as he or she pleases, there are quite a number that are ever-popular in ads. These are usually everyday words, mindless superlatives and hard sell calls-to-acts.

I must add that I have been a chronic repeat offender myself. But then again, not all the words you see or hear in an ad are from the writers; if you know what I mean.

Ad words are sometimes just empty promises...

Here are my personal top ad words and what they actually mean, in no particular order:

1. Exclusive
If you think you’re going to get special, preferential or any form of private privileges, you’re wrong. The word exclusive is added to make things look more desirable than they actually are. I mean, if you really want to be exclusive, would you advertise in a website that gets like 1 million hits a day?

2. Enjoy
This one’s an evergreen favourite and probably the all-time, most used ad word. “Enjoy the experience. Enjoy the offer. Enjoy the freedom. Enjoy the splendour”… I could like go on forever. It’s a word used to get you thinking about enjoying yourself, hopefully with the product somewhere in the picture.

3. Free
This word is a dirty little fellow. One rule of thumb to keep in mind when you see this word is that there’s never such a thing as a free lunch. Nothing is free, period! The cost of whatever is “free” has already been added to the amount you are going to pay. So unless the ad is referring to air, be wary.

4. Amazing
This is probably the easiest superlative to use for a writer, simply because anything can be amazing. This post could be amazing, or maybe your internet connection or that client who’s an amazing pain in the ass. See? Something amazing need not be advertised if it truly is.

5. Hurry
Hurry! Offer ends XX Month 2010. So you are supposed to call, click or visit to purchase this exclusively enjoyable and amazing product that comes with a free gift before a particular date. Hurry means they aren’t selling enough as it is or think you are a sucker to fall for such a cheap trick.

And the new ones…

6. Like
I am certain you know where I’m going with this… Facebook lah of course! For such an obscure word – after centuries of being overshadowed by the word ‘Love’ – Like has attained sudden super-stardom. But what does it mean? Sadly, nothing.

7. You
When an ad says “You”, it actually means you. But do not be deceived by this cunning flattery, as the science of advertising reveals that the use of this word is to make sentences more personal. The ad is supposed to be written for you… only you; and not young adults aged 21 to 28 with moderate disposable income living in urban areas.

8. Quality
This one’s a classic. But if you see this word in an ad, it means the writer knows jack-shit about the product. Because if he knew something about the product, he wouldn’t use a generic term like “quality”. Different people have different standards to which they measure quality, and that means quality can’t be quantified.

9. New
New and improved. All-new. New taste. New formula. New pack… you get the idea? The reason this word is often used is because we are all suckers for new things. Who doesn’t like a new ride or a crisp, new shirt or the smell of a new book.

10. Discover
Aren’t we all seeking for something. To discover places, thrills, experiences, friendship, enjoyment and satisfaction. We writers use this word to implant curiosity and hopefully compel action. But sadly, the kind of discovery we want you to make involves pulling out your wallet.

Copywriters Can’t Write Everything

I could probably get my ass kicked by fellow copywriters. But it is a risk I am willing to take. Clients take notice, because this is very important – never hire a copywriter to manage your Facebook page.

Because contrary to popular belief, we copywriters can’t write everything.

Okay. Let me rephrase that, we can’t write everything as well as it can be. Like myself, I am predominantly a direct response copywriter; ask me for a press release and I will struggle with writer’s constipation.

Traditional copywriting techniques often don't work in social media...

When it comes to social media however; the problem becomes even more obvious. Copywriters are trained at marketing speak; and anything the even seems remotely ‘marketing’ will probably be rejected by social citizens.

Use of the words like ‘free’, ‘exclusive’, ‘now’ and other forms of sell-speak is definitely not welcomed in Facebook.

A socially untrained copywriter commenting on behalf of a brand in Facebook is like that insurance agent friend who always wants to sell you a policy.

We usually avoid any kind of marketing or selling in our social space; as in Facebook.

The kind of writer you want managing Facebook comments is someone who is comfortable in cyberspace. Someone who knows the web lingos, keeps up with online trends and engages online audiences regularly.

It has to be someone who can ‘talk’ to audiences in their language. And not in some Oxford dictionary approved English.

Which means, this writer has to be able to make himself make mistakes. Likes little grammatical errors, occassionnal typos and also dabble in txt spk.

Managing a Facebook page is all about being honest, friendly and more often than not; amateurish.

In other words –  now anyone can write copy! Errr… I take that back.

Lights, Camera… Call to Act!

The concept is mind-blowing. The art direction will make one cry. The copy could sell a bootleg DVD to a Unifi user. But if you disregard what should be the superstar of any piece of communication, then even the greatest creative could become B-grade.

This critical ad element is called a Call-to-Action; and you’re losing potential customers if you don’t have a strong one.

Call to Act Kid
Believe it or not, consumers want to be told what to do. Dance boy, dance... ACTION!

The purpose of almost all marketing communications is to make people do something: call, SMS, walk-in, log-on, click or purchase. The thing is if you want someone to take a specific action, you actually have to ask them to take that specific action.

Yes, this belief is borne from my many years as a direct response copywriter. But here are recent researches on the matter to help illustrate why a strong call-to-act is important:

1. A research done by Marketing Sherpa to their e-newsletter readers show that a specific call-to-act increased response by over 8%.

Click-through Rates on different Call-to-acts:

“Click to Continue” = 8.35%
“Continue to Article” = 3.3%
“Read More” = -1.8%

2.  A research done by University of Connecticut asked 2 groups of people to mail back a stack of 30 post cards, 1 each for 30 days.

The first group was given the request while under hypnosis
The second group were just asked nicely

The result? The second group mailed back more postcards, which goes to prove that people will usually do as they are asked; as long as you ask nicely of course.

And this is true across all media; be it print, TV, web, social, radio, BTL, POS and what-have-you. Clear, powerful calls-to-action can make or break a campaign.

Ask and you shall be given. Now share this post with a zillion people, please? Don’t make me hypnotize you!


Think Outside the Box! Really?

You’ve heard this before from your boss, colleagues and maybe even a client or two. But is it even possible to be able to think outside the box? No way in hell it seems.

No matter how far away from a ‘box’ you are, there are still various mental constraints that each and every one of us needs to adhere to.

You can't think outside the box...
There's no such thing as thinking outside the box... kapish?

Even if you do manage to jump out a box; you’ll find that you are in a much bigger box. And that big box is in another much, much bigger box. And the boxes just seem to get bigger and bigger.

Look around, you are probably in a box disguising as a cubicle or office space as it is. Then there’s the company culture, your boss’ preference, the politics and not forgetting your own likes and dislikes. Now we know why office buildings are often in the shape of a box – hardly conducive for innovating.

Let’s say you manage to claw your way out, then there are market constraints, client politics, consumer preferences, cultural nuances, industry practices and the hard-coded mentality of “this is how things are done”.

So is there a way to really think out of the box or is this just some slick-ass marketing term concocted to confuse clients and ourselves?

Frankly, I have no freaking idea. Look at it this way, if someone asked me to write outside the box, the copy will hardly be on point. It would be like working without a creative brief.

Let’s face it, we’re not Einsteins, so the box may well be our savior. It gives us a frame of reference, guidelines and limitations (often too much). It’s how creatively we work within these confines that matter.

So when someone asks you to think outside the box, pile some boxes next to your desk. There’s one right on my desk 😉


Obstacle Buster

Remember the times when you read an ad and it spoke to your soul. Or browsed a website and you felt like clicking the ‘Buy Now’ button. That’s because you were convinced by a copywriter that used a secret weapon – BUSTING OBSTACLES.

What obstacle? It’s anything that would have prevented you from buying.

You see, it’s highly unlikely that an ad will create the need for someone to buy just because the copy spot-on. I mean, if you have no intention of buying a bike; you will not buy a bike no matter how awesomely compelling the copywriting is.

Road Obstacles
The road to purchase is filled with obstacles... bust em'!

This is what normally happens; you first aspire to own a particular product – let’s say an iPad – because you think it’s somehow made for you. Then you take notice of Apple’s ads and visit their website to justify a purchase decision you have already made in your head.

You think you’re doing it “for more information”, but in fact you are doing this to look for any reason to buy. And this is how it often becomes a copywriter’s job to remove as many obstacles that would prevent a prospect from buying. But how?

Don’t hide the benefits
Yes, a purchase decision has been made but there’s no harm reassuring the prospect. Don’t ever assume they already know. And even if they do know; repeating a benefit will only make them feel smarter; that “they are in the know”.

Don’t be shy with your product
Appeal to emotions by demonstrating the product in use. This paints a picture that the prospect is happily using the product in his head. People buy things to realize their aspirations and dreams; put the product there. Think how Apple advertises.

Don’t always stop short
Short copy works if you don’t have much time to convey the message, but long copy is the one that can turn a “no” into a “yes”. Websites offer the perfect opportunity to be copy intensive; start concise in landing pages, but go wild with content when users click-through.

Don’t over-expose
Resist the urge to say everything all at once. Leave that special something to be desired, because we all like to be tempted and teased. This goes against conventional wisdom, but works really well to push prospects over the tipping point.

Don’t forget the spouse
More often than not, the spouse has to be consulted before making any major purchasing decisions. Give reasons prospects can use on their partner to help close the deal. In case of the iPad, being able to read in bed without the lights on could convince your significant other to approve the purchase; because he/she can finally get some sleep.


10 Tips for a Great Print Ad

1. Don’t do a print ad
Hardly anyone reads newspapers or magazines the days. Can you name 3 people you know who read them on a regular basis besides your parents or that frail, retired neighbour uncle?

I could end this post here, but there will come a time when you must do a print ad because your boss (still) thinks it’s a great idea. If that ever happens, then the following tips are for you:

2. Know your target
Wouldn’t it be nice if you got little details about someone you’re thinking about flirting with? It will help you customize your approach, your demeanour and what you say. Same thing with ads… you are courting business.

3. Don’t treat ad space like real estate
Real estate appreciates the more you build in an area. But the more stuff you cram into a print ad, its appeal depreciates. Leave some “breathing space” in your ad so your message is better absorbed. Readers will also appreciate the lack of clutter.

4. Make a pitch in 2 seconds
You only have a couple of seconds to convey the main message to your audience.  This can be usually achieved with a headline that promises a benefit or reward. If not, it’s flip-goodbye.

Mature dude reading a newspaper
If this guy somewhat represents your target market, then go for it!

5. “You”ize the copy
Notice how many times the word “you” or “your” is present in this post. It’s to make you feel as if I’m talking directly to you, and only you. Being personal is convincing.

6. A bigger logo means squat!
For the umpteenth time, a bigger logo doesn’t mean higher recognition. People will look for your logo if what you have to say in the ad appeals to them.

7. Stay single
Think about your favourite ad and what you liked most about it. Got it? Now think about what’s the second thing you liked about this ad? Anything? The human brain only remembers one thing, even when it’s from a great ad.  So focus your ad’s message on the one single most important thing you want your readers to recall.

8. Know the difference
Most people can’t differentiate between a feature and a benefit. For example 50% less fat is a feature, which could bring about the benefit of a slimmer you.  Got it?

9. Don’t try to be funny
Punchy, juicy, catchy, sexy and clever lines are great; if you are a stand-up comedian. But advertising is no funny business, so use clever or ‘creative’ lines sparingly or risk becoming a joke.

10. Clear call-to-act
You must tell your readers what you want them to do: be it call, walk-in, SMS or log-on to the website. A call to action is important because it can ultimately translate to sales.

Just so you know, I still stand by point No.1, unless you are talking to your parents and that frail, retired neighbour uncle.


It’s Not My Job

Have you ever seen something that was not right, and knew you could make it right, but made no attempt because it was not your job? I know I have, and I’m not proud of it.

In an ideal situation, everyone should have everyone else’s backs in an agency, especially in the studio. This is of course easier said than done in an environment with looming deadlines and unforgiving hours. But if you spot something that’s out of place or just wrong – be it in copy, design or common sense – then it becomes your duty to raise the flag.

Yes, even when it’s not your job.  Here’s an example of what can happen if you don’t:

I recently browsed the new Malaysia Tourism website, which was easy on the eyes, well-constructed and a breeze to navigate. Then I clicked on About Malaysia and everything seemed fine until I found an external link to a Malaysian government portal. I clicked on this link that promised ‘more information’ and landed on…

I was like what the 4uck?! This looks like website from the 90s that has obviously been designed put together by nitwits. What kind of impression will this site leave on a prospective tourist? And since the site was in Bahasa Malaysia by default, I looked to see if I could at least change that. So I located the language option drop down menu and clicked on it to realise that there was no other language option besides Bahasa Malaysia. Genius!

I’m sure someone noticed this glaring stupidity and decided it was not his job to mention it. This Malaysian Government portal does not serve any purpose to prospective tourists, especially it being in a language that only Malaysians can read.

The solution is as easy as unlinking the site from the Malaysia Tourism portal. Unless, it is not possible to unlink because it is an executive decision to have the link.

In that case, there’s only one thing to say… Welcome to Malaysia!


Selling is Everything

Most people think I go to work, write a few headlines and then scoot off to lunch only never to return until the next day. Come to think of it that would be nice; but we all know it doesn’t work that way.

So what it is that I do? I Sell.

If you don't sell, you don't get paid

But I’ve come to realise that I do not only sell products to consumers; but also sell advertising to clients. So to be able to sell, I need to be able to sell the idea to the client first before being given the go-ahead to sell products to the end consumer.

Sounds confusing? But here’s the kicker.

Before I can even think about selling anything, I first must sell the idea about selling an idea to a client to sell a product to a consumer to my partners first. And I haven’t even written a single line of copy yet.

So with all this selling going on, you tell me… Isn’t advertising fundamentally about selling? Or rather shouldn’t it be all about selling?

Every CEO thinks about how much money he is making as opposed to how wonderful his company’s advertising is, which may be the reason why you see lots of crappy (but often effective) ads out there.

So is there a way to balance a strong sales-driven message with compelling creative? Last I checked, it was called Direct Marketing.


I Suck

Mmmm Lollipop
Admit it! At one time, you sucked too 😉

Yeah, I suck at over-the-top advertising. I suck at making deceiving claims. I also suck at conjuring mindless superlatives just to make my copy ‘catchy’. Heck, I even suck at advertising that decorate rather than communicate.

I suck at many things because I can’t – no matter how hard I try – know it all.

I believe advertising should be about sending right message to the right audience in the right time and hopefully with the right offer to compel a desired action.

It’s nice to be reminded about what we are really supposed to do.
Just disregard the intro music; David Ogilvy was not a king.

Because truth be told, no one gives a shit about award-winning creatives or kick-ass art direction or genius copy except for those in the ad industry.

Everyone else is just concerned about getting the best value at the lowest cost in the most convenient way possible, and I am referring to both clients and consumers here.

Advertising should be more accountable, where money spent can be justified, and less about strategic mumbo jumbo and pointless creative masturbation.

With ROI becoming more and more important to clients, creative work – or anything that happens within an advertising agency – must strive to bring more bang to clients’ ADEX.

Anything less is just not acceptable; at least for me that is. This renewed enthusiasm for advertising that sells is borne from years of watching clients spend money in big idea yet low effectiveness advertising.

In the words of the great David Ogilvy, when asked about advise on running a business:

“Never spend money on advertising which does not sell”

That’s good advise isn’t it?


Google Should Be Banned…

As a creative research tool that is. In fact, Google should be banned for use when sourcing ideas, inspiration, insights, trends and pretty much everything else that have to do with creativity.

Being a copywriter, I am also very much dependent on Google for developing copy. Not because I want to but because I have to – sometimes too much for my own liking – as I commented on a previous post.

You see, the modus operandi of Google is very simple. It is basically a huge index of the entire world’s online information; a guide of sorts. That’s all well and fine, I mean I’m sure none of us can imagine a life without Google these days.

Ban google for creative research
Makes for a very 'ball'sy visual doesn't it? Errr... but Google, please don't sue me

Here’s the problem when doing creative research though. Google runs on a majority driven system, which means sites with high traffic almost always get higher page listings. A top search results page listing means that a particular site has been viewed by thousands if not millions of people.

So if you are suddenly inspired or found a great idea from a site that originated from the first page of your search result, potentially millions more could have been equally inspired too.

And how many times do we go past the first page of a search result these days. Almost never.

I’m sure Google research-inspired ideas will not cause creative stagnation because most of us creatives tend to emulate rather than imitate (I need to stress the emphasis on the word ‘most’ here). But then again, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

And if goo-plagiarism is allowed to continue then creative ideas the world over will tend to look or feel eerily similar. On second thought, the solution is rather simple; just navigate to the second or third page of your search result for a change.