Advertising Copy: Avoid Negative Connotations


Avoid negative connotations by using positive associations

Years ago, when reading a parenting guide, I learned a bit of sage advice which I paraphrase here:

“When offering direction to children, avoid negatives; e.g. ‘Don′t jump on the couch. Rather, say, “Stay on the floor.’ If you choose negative direction, the child will hear, ‘Jump on the couch!’ and will do precisely that. If you say, ‘Stay on the floor’ the child hears exactly what you want them to do.”

When it comes to ad copy, deliver messages using words without negative connotation. Those negative connotations are easily pulled into the reader’s mind and stick, where they fester and undermine your message.

In the ad below, a health care firm seeks new physicians. However, rather than say that they were growing (and in our culture growth is generally good) and want to add new staff members, they state that they are growing like a weed.

Doctor's office ad with a negative connotation in the headline

I don′t know about you, but in my garden I pull up weeds: those undesirable, troublesome, unwanted plants. Ken Immer, a chef turned entrepreneur, said upon reading in social media my comments on the ad, “That’s like a restaurant advertising that it’s waitstaff scurries around the dining room as quick as roaches!!”

Simple, direct is best

When you write your advertising copy, it’s best to use simple messages. They can be direct, funny, contain puns or allusion. But when you want a positive association, you must take great care with any terms or phrases which have negative cultural associations — especially ones with deep roots in the psyche.

This ads copy could be restated as: “We′re growing.” Then followed with the message that the organization needs more docs. Enough said.

Oh, and proof read your ads. Docs is plural, not singular.

What are your most nettlesome notes on advertisements? Share your thoughts in comments.

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Truth in Advertising Mandated

Truth in advertising requires accurate claims

Photo by Ben Sutherland from Flickr Creative Commons

How many times have you read a claim on a menu, sign or ad that states, “Worlds’ best ….”. Have you ever questioned such a wild assertion?

United States law requires truth in advertising. This is not new. Laws have been in place for decades requiring manufacturers ensure their claims are clear and well-substantiated. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states:

What truth-in-advertising rules apply to advertisers?

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:

  • Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  • Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
  • Advertisements cannot be unfair.

Consumers are protected from unsubstantiated claims

In fact, in the last several years due to new laws, consumers may have greater confidence in the validity of advertisers’ claims.

Spokespersons in ads must be labeled as actors or endorsers and all claims stated must be marked as either a paid endorsement or an uncompensated testimonial. Though the FTC does tell us, “Statements from satisfied customers usually are not sufficient to support a health or safety claim or any other claim that requires objective evaluation.”

Ads airing on television which offer “success stories” for weight loss or inventors’ successes must alert consumers that these claims are exceptional, or not normal. In InventHelp’s TV ads their announcer states, “experience not typical and most inventions are not successful.” From Tweeters to bloggers to doctors, people endorsing products have to state their relationship to the manufacturer.

Legal decisions support truth in advertising

Two high-profile national brands have had legal penalties assessed following class-action lawsuits asserting their advertising and marketing claims were false.

Vibram, maker of the “FiveFingers Footware” has been compelled to pay damages for making “claims that FiveFingers footwear is effective in strengthening muscles or reducing injury.”

Kashi, a cereal line from Kellogg, has agreed to remove “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from their advertising and packaging. The lawsuit brought against the firm alleged that their ingredients were not naturally occurring as used in the product line.

When can “best” be used?

If you comprehend today’s consumer mindset, wild claims raise red flags. It’s far better to have consumers vouch for your product in self-authored reviews social media sites such as Google+. Consumers trust consumers far more than they trust brands’ claims.

On the other hand, if your product has won an award or received a prize in competition and you actually have something to tout – tout away – with attribution! When you have the recognition do as the U.K’s Tom’s Ale does, you may announce it on your label.

Old Tom Ale

Though if you continue to claim an award 15 years after winning it and have not won it since, you may want to revisit your claim. Dated claims feel deceptive. Charleston seafood restaurant Hymans has used a decades-old award from Southern Living to sway eaters to their doors. As blogger Aaron Goldman notes in his post, this is perhaps untrue because as Goldman states,  the restaurant “was described to me as a ‘tourist trap’.”

Tips for authentic advertising

So the next time you want to assert that your services are the “best” remember:

  1. You must have evidence to support your statements.
  2. Highly successful results used to advertise your services must carry a disclaimer, especially if typical or average results vary significantly from your claim in the ad.
  3. Evidence used to prove a claim ought to be recent and credible.
  4. Use customer testimonials referencing your product’s quality or effectiveness, but let others know how how or why or where the individual made the statement.
  5. If you have a famous person endorsing your product, make sure you note whether or not have been compensated for their endorsement and what their relationship is to your brand.
  6. If you have given or loaned a product to a blogger or journalist to test or try, make certain they and you disclose this.

Being observant and mindful of these six items will help you ensure you conform to FTC guidelines.

Photo credit: Top image, Ben Sutherland via Flickr Creative Commons; Second image of Old Tom from the Old Tom website, third image credit to Aaron Goldman.

Superbowl ads to no longer make a spectacle of the brand


When sex doesn’t sell

According to an AP news article by Mae Anderson, this year’s Superbowl ads will focus on the brand and will be more mature. She notes that brands like GoDaddy and Axe who have typically promoted their images with risqué scenarios and tawdry images will clean up their acts.

Thank goodness. After last year I was left with the determination that national brands spending millions of dollars on :30 of air time had totally forgotten the reason they purchase ads. Shock doesn’t sell. It only stops traffic.

Features, benefits, value anchor a brand

Your ad, whether in your local newspaper, direct mail, or digital format, must always focus on the time proven essentials: features, benefits and value to the customer.

Your marketing messages must reinforce your brand promise and help future or current customers comprehend the value of choosing your products.

Overselling the sizzle

Elmer Wheeler said, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak,” and while I agree that using memorable touchpoints of the brand helps consumers comprehend and recall your brand, if you oversell sizzle and it is not a core component of your brand, you have failed.

GoDaddy has famously used bombshell ads to help you remember the company name, but not a single ad they have ever run helps my remember their reason for being: domain name registration.

Flash does not build trust

Your ads should, like your content, help your brand build trust with your audience. Flashy ads do get attention, but do they reinforce the enduring quality of your products or services? I would answer, “No.”

Thank goodness this year we will see more ads such as the one from Budweiser which will focus on friendships and relationships. Budweiser has always focused on essential qualities to anchor their brews into American consumers’ minds.

Though Bud has also used their share of sophomoric humor (remember Whassss up?) to appeal to young men, a subsection of the market. On the whole Budweiser has more often focused on the building of relationships and their brew’s place as a product that fits into the life of their consumers.

Yes, sex sells, but will your customers trust or remember you in the morning if that is your primary tactic? I think not.