What’s A Word Worth? How One Word Can Take You “Off Brand”

Word choices can make or break your brand. Learn more here. Looking for that magic word to make your next tagline or ad turn heads? Have you been at it for days or even weeks? If so, you’re likely searching too hard. More often than not, the simpler and more natural the wording, the better.

Why does messaging matter so much? Well, the reality is that one word could throw off your entire brand and leave your customers running to your competition.

I was recently in a restaurant with my sister-in-law, who is a vegetarian. She loves veggie burgers and asked the waitress if she would recommend the one on the menu. The waitress’s response was, “It’s convincing.” What? Like, as in the burger is alive and will “pitch” to you on why you should eat it? Um, not likely. We asked her to elaborate on her comment, and she replied, “Well, you know it’s convincing as in a lot of people mistake it for a beef burger.” Again, what? Neither my sister-in-law nor I are fans of imitation anything. In addition, we found the waitress’s comments to be incredibly odd and slightly inappropriate. My sister-in-law is not after a beef-like veggie burger. She wants a veggie burger for the veggies. Needless to say, she ordered something else.

There may be some people who would appreciate the waitress’s description. We obviously did not. Plus, it really doesn’t make sense. After all, convincing means “causing someone to believe that something is true or certain,” according to Merriam-Webster. In today’s world of trying to make words into something they are not, it appears that the waitress was also attempting to give a burger a characteristic it clearly doesn’t possess.

This bizarre encounter naturally made me more alert of how advertisements—for non-profits, Fortune 500 companies, and the corner shop alike—can either pack a punch with a catchy word or end up confusing people (or worse, cause them to question your grammar).

One such example is the use of the word disruption. It’s powerful in some context. In others, it’s weak. Take, for example, ChildFund International’s slogan, “Disrupting Poverty.” Is that really what they mean? As in they intend “to interrupt or become unruly to poverty.” I doubt it. Disrupting seems like they’re just messing with poverty’s hair before school picture day. As a potential donor—and obvious brand critique—I want to invest time and money into organizations that are going to beat the crap out of poverty (harsh words but the truth). Change it to “eliminating” or “destroying” or even “reducing” poverty, and I’ll jump on the bandwagon. Until then, this simple yet ineffective word choice may be more disturbing than motivating.

On the flip side, a great use of the word disrupt comes from Oakley. While getting off of the Bart in San Francisco, I was hit right in the face with their stellar use of disruption: “Disruptive by Design.” Yes! That’s totally what Oakley is—a tad unruly and pushing the boundaries through its innovative, out-of-the-box design. It makes sense, and it’s accurate. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch of the definition but a good one that takes consumers—and innocent bystanders—right along with the brand rather than questioning it.

So the next time you try to get clever with a word, think twice about what it means. Unfortunately, grammar today has no real rules. But, as we all know, with freedom comes more responsibility. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should … it really might not make sense.

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