Ad-libs: The most overused word in advertising

Ad-libs: The most overused word in advertising

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

QualityI can imagine this scene playing out hundreds of times every day. A sales person sits in an advertiser’s office and says, “Let’s talk about your next ad campaign. What are your thoughts?” That’s a sensible conversation starter. Ask an open-ended question, hear the other person’s ideas and go from there.

Let’s say the advertiser answers, “Quality. We’ve got to let people know we believe in quality.” That sounds like a harmless comment, but it’s an example of where bad ideas come from. If the sales person does not probe for an explanation, “We believe in quality” will end up as theme of the advertising. And that ad campaign will get lost in a world of other vague advertising claims.

I believe that “quality” is the most overused word in advertising. It’s everywhere. Advertisers boast of quality products, quality customer service, quality people, quality selection, quality traditions and quality reputations. They act as though consumers automatically understand what they are talking about. But in reality, the word “quality” is trite and has little meaning in today’s marketplace.

“Quality” is not the answer to a question. It’s another question. It’s your cue to dig for information. Pretend you’re a lawyer on a search for evidence to prove your point. Find where your advertiser’s unique quality comes from, and let that become the idea.

Generally speaking, there are two types of evidence that can be used in advertising: product proof and human proof. The right choice can define quality and make it come to life in the consumer’s mind. Let’s take a closer look:

  1. Product proof. To find this kind of evidence, make a list of features and benefits. Then narrow it to the most relevant information. Are there special ingredients? Is there a unique manufacturing procedure? What about guarantees? Is there a story of a customer who is still using the product after an impressive number of years – or miles – of service?

This approach presents the product as a hero. If you face a specific problem, don’t you want the product that will save the day? When you want certain benefits, don’t you want the product that is proven to deliver those benefits?

  1. Human proof. There are two ways to use human proof: (1) a testimonial from a happy customer or (2) a statement from someone who works for the advertiser.

When an advertiser says, “We’re really good,” that’s just another marketer bragging about themselves. But it means something when a real live customer says, “They’re really good, and here’s why.” That’s the power of a customer testimonial.

A statement from someone representing the advertiser is what I call an in-house testimonial. For example, the technician who tells you that – when you buy a car from his dealership – you can count on his 24 years of experience to keep your car in tip-top condition. Or the chef who tells you she would be honored to prepare a meal for your special event.

Proof can make “quality” statements come to life.

(c) Copyright 2016 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: