The Virus of Lazy Language, From Platitudes to Cliches

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It is what it is - platitudes and cliches

Platitudes, cliches, exaggeration—it all comes from the same place. An unwillingness to truly understand what it is you’re talking or writing about. After all, you could spend a lifetime studying the astronomically complex physics of the universe, or, you could just say “God works in mysterious ways”, and you won’t have to bother.

The problem with words

Connecting thoughts and feelings with words was never going to be perfect. We claw to find the perfect line, but often fail to hit the mark. I realised this a long time ago, but it became a topic of hyperfocus when I started copywriting. The neurons were firing and the words were spitting out. But half of them didn’t mean much, because I was mostly new to the subject.

At this early stage, you have to ask yourself one of two important questions. Are you content with your current, shallow understanding? Or, if your understanding is deep, but your limited vocabulary means you can never quite find the right words, is that fine? If you’re happy with that, you need motivation or a different career.

Whatever the cause of your wordy woes, there’s always going to be a bit of filler, but the aim should be less – not more. Good copy is crafted and structured with thoughtful intent. You need more than a surface understanding of your craft and niche to achieve that.

I don’t put myself above it. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, or get complacent with new ones until everything you say slowly becomes stale and meaningless. It’s tough to stay motivated and disciplined, perhaps in the current climate more than ever.

Why do we talk so much shit?

People lean on platitudes and cliches whenever the cogs of creativity slow down. And when writing about an unfamiliar topic, vague words offer an easy solution in unfamiliar territory.

In university, some people struggled to meet the word count, and others had difficulty staying within it. I was in the former group, but I found people in the latter category had an affinity for talking shit. Though not impossible, it’s harder to get away with at university than it would be at college or school, but waffling would still easily get any student of the arts by with a 2:1.

Experts in platitudes would face the same difficulty with copywriting clients that have a multi-faceted revision process. You aren’t going to fool a board of fastidious marketing executives with your ability to turn two words into twenty.

So how do you write meaningful sentences?

Be your harshest critic—research & ruthlessly self-edit.

Not every word or sentence will be full of deep meaning, and putting copy perfection on a pedestal will bring repeated dissatisfaction. But if you want to write meaningful copy, you have to hit that delete button with no remorse.

You have to be prepared to rewrite sentences multiple times over. You must sacrifice paragraphs that no longer fit in the picture, no matter how good they are in isolation. Easier said than done; sure, a great paragraph in isolation is an investment of time and emotion. Sadly, some investments just have to be pulled. Constant reflection forces you to question your process and understanding.

Annoying marketing cliches to avoid

A short listicle of annoying marketing cliches to avoid? Sure, let’s end with that. These words and phrases have pandemically infected the copywriter hive-mind.

Authentic

From “just be authentic” to “this drum has an authentic sound”, this word has been authentically overused, and that’s a 100% guarantee.

Unique

Sometimes, you know something is unique, but you can’t be bothered to explain how in greater detail. So you keep referring to it as “unique”, and that’s about how shallow the observation remains. “The guitar features a unique finish” – oh I’m intrigued, do tell me more? Or are you just stating what I can clearly see in the image? Maybe the affirmation helps in that respect, but it makes for dull reading by itself.

Versatile

This has to be one of the most overused words in digital copy. For almost any product, it’s a total cop-out. It means “I don’t really know what’s good about this product, so I’ll just say it can do anything”.

Durable

It’s funny how every product is durable these days—no explanation how or why. It just is. Or it’s stating something painfully obvious, like calling titanium “durable titanium”. Combine it with one of the below terms, and gosh, how could I not be convinced?

Exaggerative adverbs

Incredibly, stupendously, extremely, exceptionally etc…

These are all words I hate. When is it ever necessary to use “incredibly” in marketing copy? You’d imagine rarely. Yet these words are frequently used to death, and then dug up to be scattered around 1000s of product pages like stale bread for the ducks.

“Unbelievably good value”

“Incredibly durable”

“Extremely versatile”

“Exceptionally authentic”

I don’t think I would be swayed by a product described as “exceptionally authentic” any more than one described as “authentic”. If an adverb doesn’t affect the meaning of a sentence, just delete it.

The problem

These terms are often used to deflect from the lack of any more profound observation or explanation. Why is the product durable? How is it versatile? And what are the benefits? A succinct message isolating these properties would be better received. If you’re going to say a product is something, let alone to an extreme, there should be substance behind the claim. At least an imaginative description that invokes a more vivid scene.

The Solution

The solution requires a shift in mentality. Focus your time on quality. Question your knowledge and understanding. Don’t worry about there not being enough words. Here’s my advice:

  1. If you have a low bar as to what is acceptable, raise the bar. Ie; spend more time on your processes and less time waffling.
  2. If you spend nearly all of your time writing and barely do any research, proofreading or editing – experiment by redistributing time between processes.
  3. Edit, refine, and reflect. Question why you say what you do.