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What Did You Say?
By  Andrew Michaels | Published  05/14/2008 | Business |

What Did You Say?

Weve all seen ads that make ridiculous promises, such
as Get rich overnight or Look 10 years
younger in 5 minutes! These ads make copywriters look bad by
committing a fundamental copywriting mistake using misleading and
deceptive claims.

Good copywriters want to communicate the benefits of a product or
service to existing and potential clients. While false copywriting might
persuade people to make a purchase and increase your profits in the short
term, using misleading copy will hurt you in the long run. You will be
accused of (and guilty of) committing a bait-and-switch

Bait-and-switch tactics exist when a specific offer is advertised
and then not honored when a customer tries to take advantage of it. This is
illegal. It's easy for business owners to get excited about a product and
genuinely want people to come in to their store just to check the product.
They might put false claims into their newsletter
, Web site or advertising thinking that when they customer
sees the product or service in action, theyll forget why they came
in. The consequences of that strategy could reach well beyond upset
customers. You not only could have negative publicity, but you could be sued
or be assessed monetary penalties.

Most Frequently Used Words and Phrases of Misleading

Free: The word
""free"" and similar phrases such as
no cost are the most clichéd words in
copywriting. Nowadays, people will ignore your marketing if it includes the
word free because theres almost always a
catch. People learn from experience. Dont use free unless you mean
that something is absolutely free. If there is a condition, such as
buy one get one free make sure you clearly state

Guarantee: When something is guaranteed,
consumers feel a sense of trust. They let down their guard a bit to try a
product. So it's understandable that many marketers use the word
liberally--""satisfaction guaranteed,""
""money-back guarantee,"" ""results
guaranteed,"" and variations such as ""or
your money back."" But nothing makes a customer more angry
than if the guarantee doesnt hold up. You can almost guarantee
that youll have negative word-of-mouth if you use this word and
dont follow through.

Lowest price: Nearly every consumer is
worried about price. Price is often a deciding factor on a customers
decision to purchase a product. If you say you have the lowest price,
youd better check to make sure. Once you make the claim and a
customer finds a similar product, or the same product elsewhere, your
credibility has been severely diminished and the consumer wont
believe any of your future claims. Pricing claims actually arent
used as much because so many people have been burned by them, the claims just
arent very credible.

Risk-free or no risk:
Here is another example of a phrase (and variations) that has lost its
effectiveness because its been overused. Unfortunately, today many
consumers expect to be taken advantage of, so consumers find it hard to
believe that a purchase doesn't have some risk associated with

Up to: When this phrase is coupled with an
offer or claim, the waters get murky. For example, ""up to
50 percent off"" means only some items are available at 50
percent off, but the majority may be offered at a far lower discount or no
discount at all. Consumers see ""50 percent off""
and act, but are upset when they arrive for the advertised sale and find just
one unpopular item available at that discount. Customers leave unsatisfied,
and dont buy anything. They also wont return now that
they know the odds of what they want being at a discounted price are

Tips on How to Avoid Using Misleading Words and

Dont use any of the above words or phrases in your
advertising or marketing materials until youve evaluated the risks
versus the rewards. If you advertise using words such as
""guarantee"" or
""free,"" be sure you can prove your

Make sure you clarify any claims that could appear misleading. Ask
your co-workers if they think your claim could be misunderstood in some way.
If so, you need to clarify your message. For example, rather than saying,
""We have the best customer service,""
your copy could be more compelling as ""Voted as #1 in
customer service by The Local Magazine."" In this example,
not only does the revised copy clarify claim, but it also shows credibility,
because someone is making the claim for you.

Whatever words you choose to use in your advertising, be sure to
clarify your statements and make sure you can prove the claims in your copy.
In today's world of excessive lawsuits, it's vital that you protect your

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Andrew Michaels
I am a freelance copywriter 

View all articles by Andrew Michaels

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