The Power of Words

Here is a rather touching video (granted: it is an advertisement) that illustrates the power of words to radically change your message, and thereby, your effect on the world.
I really like this as it shows the incredible power of words. Words, and, more importantly, the way they have been arranged, have started or ended wars or relationships, created hope or despair and given encouragement or caused hurt.

In advertising, a particular arrangement of words could lead to a sale…or, an abandoned sale. Just that quick. Think of the many times you yourself have walked into a store, ready to purchase something you have been excited to acquire. All you really want to do is buy the thing and take it home…and over comes the sales clerk. Of course the clerk feels a need to “sell” you the item, and they begin their babble, babble, babble about every detail. Pretty soon your desire to buy the thing is diminished as their words wearily complicate the whole process. So, you walk out of the store without the thing you wanted so badly just a few minutes before.

It is the same on the web, in print ads and especially TV commercials.

I was watching something the other day and a commercial came on for a chopper thingy that would let you dice up a cucumber in less than a minute. The voice-over was a man who resembled a carnival barker…yelling all the details and with an inflection that made me feel like I was on the roller coasters of sales pitches. But the best part was at the end when he said, “AND, if you CALL RIGHT NOW you can get TWO for the price of ONE! THAT’S RIGHT: TWO!” I thought to myself, what could I possibly do with two of those things? And why was it that he’d suddenly turned me off from buying one?

Maybe that’s just an example of terrible advertising as opposed to an example of the negative power of words. After all, if you follow this blog, you know I am definitely annoyed by TV advertising (see: I Hate This Ad).

Instead, check out these examples of poorly (and humorously) worded classified ads:

  • Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home, too.
  • Wanted. Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.
  • Wanted. Widower with school-age children requires person to assume general housekeeping duties. Must be capable of contributing to growth of family.
  • 3-year-old teacher need for pre-school. Experience preferred.
While those are funny, advertisers who know the power of words (and their usage) often use what is known as Weasel Words to create phrases that lure the consumer. A weasel word is basically a term for words and phrases arranged in a fashion that create the impression something specific or meaningful has been said, when in all actuality, only a vague or ambiguous statement has been communicated. It’s phrases like:

  • “Four out of five people would agree…” [Out of how many?]
  • “Nothing is safer…” [Nothing??]
  • “More people are now using…” [More than using what?]
They mean nothing and yet they are compelling by nature.

It’s like me saying, “It has been suggested that this blog posting appear on the Fast Company website.”

[Suggested by whom? My mom?]

If you would like to read more about the power of words in advertising, I recommend Taking Advantage – The Power of Words: Advertising Tricks of the Trade Part One of a Two Part Series byRichard F. Taflinger.

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