Let me be the first to admit that I have been complicit in using “think outside the box” before (Exhibit A), as well as a few other phrases on this list. So sue me (please, don’t!). However, if you are trying to write marketing or sales documents that will represent your brand and make that valuable first impression, I implore you: Please, don’t use any of these clichés — or, at the very least, try to disguise them as much as possible.
Clients want to see new and creative ideas that will captivate their imagination, make them dream, visualize a happy future, or transport them to a distant memory. Following is a short list of some of the worst clichés and taglines in marketing. Consider this a public service designed to help bring light to these hackneyed blunders, and prevent them from tarnishing future marketing efforts.
1) The visual analogy of the light bulb
We know that Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and other animated cartoons like Wile E. Coyote constantly use this analogy to convey the fact that they’ve thought of a brilliant idea. Along the lines of “oh my gosh, please just stop, this is not brilliant and it’s overused,” the folks at 101 Clichés agree: “there’s not a retina on the planet that the light bulb isn’t burned on the back of. Let’s do everyone a favor and switch it off.”
2) Built from the ground up
We understand that you’re proud of your business and you want to convey that to your clients. But, ask yourself: if it wasn’t “built from the ground up,” was it built “from the ground down” or "from the side," etc.? Leave the brand storytelling for the “About Us” or “History” page on your website or information packet, and skip making this your unoriginal tagline.
3) Rock stars and ninjas
If we’re being honest, we all want to be rock stars … the paparazzi, the glitter falling from the concert venue’s ceiling, the multi-platinum album sales … except, we are not. And there seems to be a lot of rock stars at a lot of companies lately. The only media outlet that begs to differ a little bit is The Wall Street Journal: they recommend you hire the entire band, instead! What about the roadies, WSJ?
In the real world, rock stars are part of a double (if not triple) edged sword: they’re influential, they might define cultural phenomena and they are highly controversial, more often than not, in a negative way. Rock stars also sometimes want to shine on their own, which is a problem when you're trying to work as a team.
4) Time is of the essence
Yes, we know, we’re here in this Earth on “borrowed time” and “time is running out.” We also understand that “time is money,” but using these stress-producing metaphors is not going to make your campaign stand out.
5) Best-of-breed and/or world-class
Hmm. The comparison between your service or product and human’s best friend is on point! If someone has an insurance product that behaves, smells and looks like a dog, please send us the information; it would be like finding out that Donkey from the movie Shrek could actually talk in English.
6) One-stop shop
I can think of a few places that might be a “one-stop shop” depending on what you’re referring to: Costco, Walgreens, Home Depot, 7Eleven… But in insurance marketing, the term is too vague, generic and overused. Worst of all, it lacks vision.
7) Avant-garde, on the cutting edge, at the vanguard
We’re all groundbreaking in our own ways and some are even ahead of their time. But who attributes these adjectives to people, companies, movements and things? Possibly historians, reviewers or other people that are usually looking back into a specific moment in time and realize that, indeed, Edgar Allan Poe was ahead of his time, if you’re referring to the Goth kids at the mall… (Disclaimer: Poe was part of the Romantic Movement in the early 1700s and is one of my favorite authors.)