This article was originally published in MediaPost.
If there was any doubt that customers want brands to talk to them honestly, look no further than the words that customers have seen over and over again in advertisements through the years that they wish brands should seriously consider never using again.
In 2016, customers are smart, savvy and sick of certain words and phrases that have been trotted out in advertising for over 100 years. People are tired of marketing clichés — plain and simple. Here are the top words and phrases the strike customers as disingenuous, disrespectful or as plain old lies.
Natural: One imagines in the 1940s, natural may have carried weight with customers. These days, however, customers’ have a suspicion that anything stamped with the word “natural” definitely does not come from nature. Despite the country’s preoccupation with eating organic, “natural” has become a meaningless buzzword. It rankles customers, who think the word is something brands slap on products that are not organic — but on ones they want to fool you into thinking are somehow, well, natural. Indeed, when shopping, customers place more emphasis on words like “healthy,” “fresh,” “nutritional” and “high quality,” which rank higher than “natural,” according to our data.
The Best: The words “the best” or “number one” sound like a sleazy sales pitch to many customers. The two phrases are called out as insincere and “simply a matter of opinion.” Customers viewed this type of superlative language as a smokescreen for lower quality or cheaper ingredients. “I determine the best value is for my own family. I also don’t care what other customers prefer; I only prefer what works best for my family’s needs,” noted one customer. “The number one…I find myself hearing this from two different companies that are selling the same product. It leaves me thinking…well, they both can’t be the number one.” “Guaranteed” is another word that falls into this category. When customers hear this word they “automatically think of a sleazy salesman.”
New: New is yet another word that strikes many customers as a flat-out lie. One customer noted that “if the word ‘new’ is used, make sure it’s a better version of the product not just the wrapping.” Newness can also be seen as an attempt to teach an old dog new tricks rather than making substantive improvements to a product.
Innovative: Innovative comes across as an empty promise and throwaway term. Brands, drop innovative and come up with something that actually describes what is new or novel. This will make your value clearer to your customers and it won’t rub them the wrong way.
Millennial: Words associated with the millennial movement, including: YOLO; selfie and FOMO only infuriate those who are not members of the chosen generation. Millennials, too, are growing sick and tired of having marketers call them out by name. Are there ways to appeal to specific generations? Certainly, but simple dog-whistle language isn’t the best path forward.
Customers want brands to speak to them with honest and transparent language whenever possible. As one customer noted, “I’m a real person (just like the people that work at the company). Just talk to me like I am real. Don’t try to trick me or pull the wool over my eyes.”
Customers have valid issues and concerns about their relationships with brands. They want to hear from the brands with which they do business but they don’t want to be barraged with empty terms or inane promises. While many words that customers are sick of started life as perfectly appropriate and serviceable, over time their utility has eroded. It’s a natural part of the evolution of language. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to recognize. Wise marketers, however, listen to their customers and adjust accordingly.