The Power of (the Right) Words in Advertising


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Feeling inundated? I’m only writing out the offers you hear on a daily basis, often without really noticing. But for hours and hours you are constantly being bombarded with terms like ‘Complementary gifts’, ‘Elite, white-glove care’, and ‘Helpful customer service’ that are designed to convince you to part with your money.


George Carlin’s diatribe on advertising buzzwords provides stunning insight into words and phrases we hear everyday yet never really notice. Day-in and day-out, diegetic, unattached voices slither out of our televisions, radios, and computers to make bombastic proclamations separating themselves as a unique service, attempting to outboast and outclass their competition.


It takes decades of research to uncover those specific words and phrases that push a button in our brains to subconsciously make us pay attention to what we’re listening to or watching. Since social media advertising came on the scene, however, it’s become far easier to measure and locate the triggers that make consumers convert.


Marketers now have extensive, proven research into every type of word for every type of occasion. Organic posts, paid posts, posts on Facebook, posts on LinkedIn, ads on LinkedIn, ads on Twitter, post headlines, post descriptions, email headlines, email copy, social media copy and website copy all feature words that have been inculcated into our heads without even knowing it.


Just take a look at this example of how one word can flip a switch:


“Social psychologist Ellen Langer tested the power of a single word in an experiment where she asked to cut in line at a copy machine. She tried three different ways of asking:


‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?’ – 60% said OK


‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?’ – 94% said OK


‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?’ – 93% said OK


“I don’t know about you, but I thought Langer’s third request was rather elementary. Yet it didn’t matter. The trigger word ‘because’ was all she needed. The takeaway: When you want people to take action, always give a reason.”


The writer is absolutely correct. The second explanation points out a very obvious reason as to why the subject needs to cut in line, while the third explanation says nothing at all. Because was the trigger that convinced those in line to let the subject cut, despite seemingly giving no good reason.


Your ability to persuade is largely predicated on the words you utilize and how you combine them in a way that makes it more receptive to the part of your brain that processes sentences (We’ll get to this later).


Let’s examine the five most persuasive words in the English language, cited by Copyblogger:


1. You: “According to recent research examining brain activation, few things light us up quite like seeing our own names in print or on the screen. Our names are intrinsically tied to our self-perception and make up a massive part of our identity.”


2. Free: “To test the power of the word ‘free’ in relation to concrete value, the study first asked people to choose between a 1 cent Hershey Kiss or a 15 cent Lindt truffle (about half its actual value, generally considered a richer, superior chocolate).


The results were 73% of the people in the study choosing the Lindt truffle.


“Later though, another random group of subjects seemingly flipped on their opinion of these two treats. Ariely revealed that when the price was reduced by one cent for both brands (meaning the Kiss was now free), people altered their choices drastically.


With the new prices (Lindt at 14 cents and Hershey’s for free), the results were 69% in favor of Hershey’s!
“Ariely points to loss aversion (our disdain for losing out on things) and our natural instinct to go after ‘low hanging fruit’ as the reasons why we are so susceptible to snatching up free stuff.”


Are people really just that cheap? No. Although some people will drive further to save an extra few cents on their gas, most people won’t care about a one cent difference, including in the above example. This is a perfect example of the power and influence of words.




3. Because: We already went into this, but here’s a more thorough, scientific explanation:


“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do. Here’s the bottom line:


Many companies are proud of the features that their product (or service) can offer, and that’s fine, but you have to remember that when you are focusing on writing persuasive copy, it all comes down to answering your customer’s #1 question: What’s in it for me?”


4. Instantly: This is an easy one. What do we want more than getting things done? Getting it done fast. We are much too busy to have to wait for our questions to be answered, so we need it fast, we need it quickly, and we need it INSTANTLY.


The scientific reasoning:


“Several MRI studies have shown just how fired up our mid-brain gets when we envision instant rewards, and how it’s our frontal cortex that’s activated when it comes to waiting for something. Words like ‘instant’, ‘immediately’, or even ‘fast’ are triggers for flipping the switch on mid-brain activity.”


5. New: People are constantly on the lookout for something new that’s going to add a breath of fresh air and an extra boost to a life that may be entrenched in the trudging pace of mediocrity and routine. With a promise of something new, it represents hope for a change for the better.


The prospect of ‘Something new on the horizon’ excites people. Your curiosity and wonder is heightened because ‘new’ represents mystery, possibility and discovery. A ‘new’ car means newer, better features. A ‘new’ home means updated, modern designs and the start of a new life. A ‘new’ job means new opportunity.


Plus, it keeps people on their toes. People may already be loyal to your brand, but if one day you make an announcement stating to “Stay tuned for a NEW and improved product”, your ears are bound to perk up with wonderment and interest.


Of course, not everything ‘New’ is a good idea:




Sometimes, namely for movies, new versions of old objects can result in backlash. A lot of fans of the 1984 version of Ghostbusters didn’t want a new Ghostbusters. The same can be said for fans of any old, or classic, version of a remake. Fans of the original become indignant because they like tradition and routine, so be wary of how far you take ‘new’ versions of products.


But that’s taking ‘New’ too far. If you already have an established product that isn’t broken, why do like Coke did and try to reinvent the wheel? Or like Ghostbusters and try to recreate it with today’s humor and different actors?


Let’s end on this note:


“New fixes to old problems, new features and improvements, a fresh new design, or even new ways of getting your message out there are all essential for keeping your customers ‘on their toes’, without losing the trust that has cemented you as an awesome brand in their mind.”

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