Clichés are a bit like cars. As in, once you notice one particular make and model, you suddenly start seeing it everywhere.
(Note: property shows and websites’ constant mentions of “light and airy”, or the whole world’s super-annoying use of “super” as a prefix).
But the thing about clichés is, they’re useful, they save time, and they stop you from having to think too hard. A cliché describes something so well that when you use one, you can be confident that everybody reading your words will ‘get’ your message, straight away.
Or can you?
I took a creative writing course a (long) while back. My tutor would circle every cliché I used, then add the initials FLF, which stood for “flickering log fire”.
(As a beginner to creative writing, I used more clichés than you could shake a stick at. Now, of course, I avoid them like the plague).
“Readers skim over clichés without even thinking about it,” my tutor told me back then. “They’ve seen them so many times that they’ve lost all the meaning they once had.”
Once I’d recovered from this early hit of criticism – surely he was just jealous of my budding talent? – I had to admit that my tutor was right.
So if you want readers to really notice your message, you’re going to have to work a bit harder than telling them that your product or service will “bring their dreams to life”.
(Which is all well and good, unless it’s that dream where you’re running naked through the High Street).
Not that clichés don’t have their place in writing. Often, when you’re thinking about what to write, one will suggest itself immediately. When that happens, don’t dismiss it. It’s likely to be your first thought about an idea, so use it to help uncover what you really want to say.
For example, I’ve noticed a recent copywriting trend in which companies will tell you how, if you work with them, you’ll be “treated like family”. But what does that actually mean?
(Hopefully not that you’ll row with them during every holiday, then eat all their food and leave the cap off the toothpaste).
Adding some detail and honesty will help you avoid clichés, so instead of “we treat you like family”, you could explain exactly how you treat customers. Can they contact you at any time, do you follow up on your services with a courtesy call, or will you send them something on their birthday?
Same goes for meaningless phrases like “your (socks) are our passion”, or “take your (sausage rolls) to the next level”.
Why, and how?
Oh, and while this isn’t about clichés as such, if you want to make your product or service seem more high-end, don’t use fancy language to describe it (such as the website for a boutique hotel, which describes itself as an “icon to fine hospitality”, before talking about bedrooms decked in “iridescent tones of sea green and metallic hues”).
Most luxury brand copy makes me think about that episode of Friends, in which Joey is writing a reference for Monica and Chandler to adopt a child. He uses a thesaurus to make his letter sound more grand; in the process replacing “they’re warm, nice people with big hearts” with “they’re humid, prepossessing homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps”.
The result is that you notice the words, not the sentiment – which is a shame, if what you’re offering really is special.
My advice would be to try taking a leaf out of Apple’s book, and use simple, stripped-back wording that lets your product or service really shine for itself.
Easy as pie.
If I can help you with any copywriting conundrums, I’d be happy to. Get in touch for a chat (and if you’re lucky and local, a coffee).
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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