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7 marketing clichés to avoid

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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. 

bright idea light bulb

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.”

An alternative:

Symbolism is powerful when you’re trying to find a logo or image to convey a message. Sometimes the best ideas are simple and right in front you. Clear your mind, desk and white board. Write a list of your values, your mission and your objectives. Hopefully, this exercise in reflection and analysis will yield the visual analogy that you’re looking for, instead of resorting to the easiest one. For example, Apple’s logo, the apple, came from the idea that the forbidden apple was what led to creation (among other things). Simple. Elegant. Apple.

Construction worker

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.

An alternative:

Be clear about your services or products. Your clients will appreciate that you tell them from the get-go what you and your brand are all about. Remember, you only have a few seconds to capture their attention.


rock star band ninja

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.

Ninja is another term that tends to stick. This was a buzzword in 2010. An unknown ninja has had his own videoblog on YouTube since 2005 called “Ask a Ninja.” And while we might wish to have the amazing hiding abilities and superior fighter skills of the ninjas from feudal Japan, we owe it to our five-year-old self to leave this one behind… 

An alternative:

Be honest. People appreciate honesty, especially in this era where anything and everything can be taken out of context or photoshopped. Also, remember that anyone trying too hard to be cool usually comes off as a phony. Or, as famed advertising exec David Ogilvy once said, “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”


borrowed time

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.

An alternative:

Ask yourself why “time is of the essence”? Why are we on “borrowed time”? Why do I need life insurance now, before “my time is up”? Or why “the time is now” for me to get my 401(k) up and running? When you ask yourself “why?”, you put yourself in your clients’ shoes and making it easier to understand their point of view. You build trust and are better able to add value for your clients.


best in show dog

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.

An alternative:

It’s not about you; it’s about them, your clients. Turn it around and make it about them. It’s great that you have garnered awards and publicity. It does a lot for your credibility, but it’s not the best way to sell. By instead making it about your clients and prospects, you build trust more easily, you are better equipped to serve client needs from the start and you are more likely to reap great referral rewards. 


supermarket shopping cart

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.

An alternative:

Be specific. What can I, as a client, expect to find on your website, at your agency, during your call or during our meeting? Be concise. “Simplify your message,” Sir Richard Branson says, adding that “knowing who we are and what we stand for ensures that we don’t waste time or money on messaging that doesn’t represent us or resonate with our customers.”

moonlight raven

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.)

An alternative:

While we would all love our products or services to be labeled with such a grandiose adjective as avant-garde, using language like this does not clearly communicate our intent to our client. Ok, you’re on the cutting edge, but why should your client care? Write as if you were talking to someone face-to-face. What do you do? What does your product or service do? What value do you bring or add to your client’s life?