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5 words that hurt (your marketing results)

Free! You! Now! We’ve all head about magic words that help your copy sell more effectively. But what about words that push readership and response in the opposite direction? Here is a starter list of five words (and word categories) to watch out for…. additional submissions appreciated.

1. “I”. Nobody cares about you, except your mother. Readers want to read about themselves. That’s why the presence of “I” in a classic marketing message is a clear indicator you are wandering into dangerous territory. (Social media is an exception, along with scenarios in which you expect to create a first-person story the reader will identify with.)

2. Even worse, “we”. Still in the first person, but now we’re talking about a corporate presence. “We” is a favorite word of posturing messages that are meant mainly to be read in the boardroom. Writing such messages is called “we weing all over yourself”. Try the We We Calculator to see if you are guilty of too much wee-ism in your copy.

3. “It”. Unless they’re already engrossed in your copy, when you use “it” the reader is going to have to refer back in the message to find out what the meaning of “it” is. They’re not likely to take the trouble.

4. Words that can be read more than one way. “Read” (present tense) and “read” (past tense) is one example. As is “lead” (make people follow) or “lead” (the metal). Anytime readers get confused because they have misunderstood your meaning, they’re likely to just stop reading.

5. Words that look similar enough to be misinterpreted by a hurrying reader. Example: “through/thorough/though”. If you depend on them to get your message across, you’re toast.

And, a bonus phrase:

6. “As I just mentioned”. Using this expression is what I call “as-backwards” copywriting because the reader probably doesn’t remember what you’ve just mentioned. You’re expecting them to reverse direction to find out when, more likely, they’ll just hit the delete button.

This is one of a series of excerpts from my DMA class, “Copywriting that Gets Results”.  Visit the Copywriting 101 category to see them all.


#1 Dan Shaw on 06.25.09 at 8:04 am

Ah, Otis, right in many respects, yet I point out some significant exceptions to your “I” and “we” rule at

I agree with your “As I just mentioned…” admonition. But starting a P.S. with “As I explain in my letter …” can be a powerful way to get “P.S” skimmers to go back and read the letter itself.

#2 susan rosso on 07.20.09 at 6:34 pm

picked up an error in the first line – head instead of heard – let me know if you need a proofreader! ;-)

#3 admin on 07.20.09 at 6:47 pm

Thanks Susan. That post has had 1225 page views as of this moment and you are the first to notice. Maybe this is the flip side of of my rule #5: people expect to see a certain word in context so they do see it, even though it’s a different word.

#4 Julie on 07.22.09 at 12:03 pm

Was Susan the first to notice? Or was she just the first to bother to post about it?

#5 Words that hurt: the “we we” chronicles. | Otis Regrets... or Not on 11.02.09 at 10:21 am

[...] an earlier post we talked about the problem of “we weing all over yourself”, letting a plural corporate [...]

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