The Role of a Cliché—in Copywriting (Hint: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover)

Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

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Source: Jazmin Quaynor, https://unsplash.com/photos/X9GHkHbJIaU

 

Cliché [klee-shey, noun]

  • a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase…that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.

Dirty little secret:

clichés are an essential part of a good copywriter’s toolkit

They’re boring. They sound generic, vague, or both. They add zero to the conversation. They belong to the language—not to your brand.

But as with all language tricks, a great copywriter can spin them into gold. In literature, a cliché is a hackneyed plot. But it’s still possible to use one—and keep things fresh. When writing website copy for Silver Moon Barbados, a business specializing in luxury cruises and excursions, we employed the phrase, “Sometimes, less is more,” to convey the beauty of a getaway without distractions.

When used well, a cliché can:

  1. Resonate with a wide audience. If your target reader isn’t clearly defined, peppering in a few clichés may broaden your appeal.
  2. Flip the script. A cliché can set your audience up for a major surprise. Once they feel comfortable and think they know where you’re going, take them somewhere unpredictable.
  3. Skip formalities. Sometimes, you can use clichés as shortcuts. Maybe you want your audience to know where your copy is going—that’s not always such a bad thing.
  4. Get your ideas down on paper. When writing your first draft, you can use clichés as placeholders as you focus on the flow of the piece. Once you’re ready to revise, go back and replace them with more complex and original phrases.
  5. Make a funny. With a simple twist at the end, you can use a cliché for laughs. A fresh take on a well-known phrase can set the tone for the rest of your copy—it actually has to be funny, though.

They may seem dull and generic, but clichés can accomplish a wide range of goals. Some pack more meaning and emotion than others—effectiveness often depends on context. Just remember: There are right times and wrong times to use clichés in your copy. A good copywriter knows the difference.

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Ryan Hussey

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