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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

5 Words to Avoid Using When Advertising Your Brand's Products or Services

Updated: Feb 12

If there’s one word that could best describe the act of marketing, that word would be persuasion. That’s because every facet of marketing revolves around either persuading a group of people to take a desired action. Or persuading a group of people to feel a certain way about something or someone.

As marketing professionals, especially when it comes to advertising—our primary tools of persuasion are words.

Words are so powerful, marketing professionals use them to persuade people to: purchase products, pay for services, regard a brand or person a certain way, take their health more seriously, vote for a particular person or thing, help keep the planet clean, watch or listen to programs, and a plethora of other things.

But just as words have the power to persuade people to take desired actions, hold certain beliefs, or take particular stances. Words also have the power to dissuade people from doing the same. Whether intentional or not.

1. Cheap

In his book, Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality, author Stephen Poole, writes, “Every word arrives at the ear cloaked in a mist of associations and implications; and every choice of a particular word represents a decision not to use another one.”

Wording (also known as copy) in advertising is extremely important because one single word used in your brand’s advertising could be powerful enough to convey a message to customers that would yield a desired result for your brand.

Inversely, one single word could also discourage customers from taking a desired action; or even worse, regard your brand with a negative connotation because of a misinterpreted association with that word.

As is the case with the word cheap.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering, “What could be wrong with using the word cheap in my brand’s advertising?” Great question! The reason why you should avoid using the word cheap in your brand’s advertising (even if your prices are very low) is because although just about everyone loves a great deal, most people do not view themselves—and most certainly, do not want others—to perceive them as being cheap.

Instead, use alternative words in your brand’s advertising that convey that same message. Walmart, for example, is a brand that does a great job of conveying that their stores are inexpensive with their current slogan, “Save money. Live better.”

Those words convey to customers that Walmart stores have low prices; without associating the Walmart brand with the word cheap. Which is a word that also could lead people to question the quality of your brand’s products or services.

2. Believe

Have you ever sat back and truly thought about some of the qualities that most prominent and celebrated leaders have common? Well, two qualities you’ll notice that they all display when addressing the public are: boldness and confidence.

The reason for that is intrinsically, people are drawn to those that are sure of themselves and their abilities to get things done. Whether it’s someone running for public office who says that only they can get the job done. An athlete that guarantees that they’ll defeat their opponent. Or a general vowing to lead his troops to victory despite the odds against them.

More often than not, people will always follow those that display an aura of assuredness to their audience.

And as is the case with individuals that become prominent and celebrated leaders in society, people also turn to brands to help them make decisions that will make their lives better. That’s why truly great brands exude boldness and certitude.

One word that doesn’t exude boldness nor certitude—is the word believe. Which is known as a hedge word.

“When someone says: around, arguably, I believe, generally, kind of, maybe, presumably, rarely, or usually—they’re hedging. They’re expressing uncertainty in one way or another.” Says author and world-renowned expert on influence Jonah Berger, in his bestselling book, Magic Words: What To Say To Get Your Way.

Essentially, people want to believe in something. But they look to leaders for certainty and security. So, allow your target audience to be the ones believing that your brand will make their lives better. It’s your brand’s job to know that it will and to convey that fact in your ad copy.

3. Had

One of my favorite television characters of all time is Al Bundy, from the classic television series Married With Children. As a former high school football star, Al would often tell stories on the show to just about anyone that would listen about the one time he scored four touchdowns in a single game for his Polk High football team.

Al told the story so frequently, his family would tune him out whenever they heard him begin to mention it in a conversation.

Well, customers do the same whenever a brand mentions its past accomplishments or ratings it once had received in its heyday. Had is a word used in past tense that people associate with history. And when it comes to customers, the benefits that your brand has to offer in the present—is far more important when it comes to persuading people’s purchasing decisions.

4. Irreversible

The purpose of avoiding using certain words in your brand’s advertising is to circumvent any unintended associations that could negatively have an impact on the way that your brand will be perceived. In other words, it’s about understanding what is known in psychology as the principal laws of association.

“The principal of association is a general one. An innocent association with bad things or good things will influence how people feel about us.” States author and psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini, in his bestselling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

One bad thing, or rather bad word—that influences how people feel towards brands in a negative sense, is the word irreversible. Irreversible is a trigger word that evokes hopelessness. A feeling that you definitely do not want to be associated with your brand.

5. Death

At its core, advertising is a paid, non personal form of communication conceived to persuade a target audience to consider a product, service, organization, or idea in a desired manner.

Any undesired or negative feeling that a brand’s advertising evokes within its target audience is contradictory to the brand’s objectives.

And very few things evoke a more negative feeling than thinking about one’s own mortality. Which is why death is a word that your brand should avoid using in its advertising.

Upwork is a brand that is currently learning this lesson the hard way. The online freelancing platform is currently running an ad campaign featuring a hideous zombie named Jack, that makes a series of death references while detailing the benefits of Upwork’s platform.

The result? Online reviews of the campaign have been met with repulsion by many viewers within the brand’s target audience. Words like creepy, weird, annoying, disgusting, and off-putting, have all been used by people in social media posts to describe the ad campaign.

Rather than associating your brand’s products or services with morbid thoughts within its target audience; try to keep in mind that fundamentally, people want to feel joyous, lively and cheery. Which are all great feelings that you should want to be associated with your brand.


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