The 5 Forbidden Words of Advertising

Quality – Value – Service – Caring – Integrity

Via Forty Media: “They look great. They sound great. You’re sure that they’ll convince the customer that your company, above all others, is the “the one.” The only problem is – as pointed out by a June 2006 article in BusinessWeek – that those five words have come to mean absolutely nothing to an ad-saturated public.

In reality, these five attributes are all fairly fundamental business concepts. They’re not something you should be boasting about; they’re simply core competencies that all business ought to consider an operational baseline. Because these keywords represent what should be basic business practices, using them in promotional materials comes across as being defensive, and nothing deflates an ad campaign as quickly as defensiveness. “

  • Quality: Every product worth buying is a quality product. It may be high-priced quality or it may be low-priced quality, but it’s quality either way. That means every company believes it can use the word “quality” in its advertising. Too many have, and as a result, now it has become just seven empty letters.
  • Value: Wal-Mart provides good value, but so does Tiffany. Value, like quality, is in the eye of the beholder, and every product or service has its own value equation. Saying “we provide the best value” is, therefore, virtually meaningless.
  • Service: Have you ever heard an ad promising lousy service? Of course not, which is the reason why claiming good service just falls on deaf ears. It’s funny, but the companies that make the claim of good service the most tend to be those that deliver it the least.
  • Caring: Do you really believe your company cares more about your customers than your competition does? It may feel good to say so, but the claim flies in the face of common sense. If your competitors didn’t care about their customers, they couldn’t stay in business. It’s particularly easy for service companies to get caught up in the “caring” self-deceit because they don’t sell a tangible product. But to say “we care more” in an ad presumes that your competitors care less, which is ascribing motivations to them that can’t be proven. Consumers know this and are not only hesitant to believe your claim, they are likely to consider it bad form.
  • Integrity: A company either has integrity or it doesn’t. It’s either honest or it isn’t. And most people give companies the benefit of the doubt in believing that they operate with integrity. When a company talks about integrity in its advertising it’s for one of two reasons, neither one of them good: They’re either trying to cover up some lack of integrity (which never works) or they’re implying they live by a higher standard than their competition. That’s impolite, to say the least. Every company needs to have integrity. No company needs to advertise it.

Says BusinessWeek‘s Steve McKee: “What you think about your company doesn’t matter. All that matters is what your customers and prospects think. The next time you’re tempted to use one of these five words in an ad, stop and ask if there’s a better way to get the message across. Using common words that have become empty cliches is a shortcut to nowhere. Just because you sell it doesn’t mean people will buy it. “

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