10 Advertising Phrases That Are Actually Meaningless

Sayings That Promise Everything But Deliver Nothing

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There is an art to writing copy and creating advertisements. There is also a science. The two, when combined, can create selling messages that are very effective. But when you really drill down into some of the carefully crafted language, you’ll discover that advertisers are saying a whole lot but delivering little-to-no substance.

This is the job of less reputable copywriters, and their advertising agencies.

They are tasked with turning everything the client provides into the most convincing argument that will make a sale. Now, to be fair, the better the info from the client, the less the agency will need to "spin" it. But at the end of the day, a good ad agency won't resort to this kind of nonsense. These phrases are misleading, and here are 10 of the biggest offenders.

1. Scientifically Formulated.

You’ll hear this phrase used in ads for diet pills, beauty creams, and even pet foods. It’s a phrase specifically written to sound impressive, yet means nothing. What the companies using this phrase hope you get from it is that it is scientifically proven. But that is a completely different ballgame. If they pull that phrase out, they have to back it up with all sorts of statistics and test results. Chances are, they can’t, or they’d use it. So, they rely on the phrase that sounds very similar, but in fact is empty verbiage.

All it means is that this product was put together using some kind of “scientific” method. That could be as simple as mixing a few ingredients, or devised by someone who can prove he or she is a scientist of some description. Basically… we made this product using chemicals and ingredients that we mixed together.

Well, isn’t that a whole lot of nothing?

2. When They’re Gone, They’re Gone.

Sometimes, very rarely, this will actually mean what it says. You may be at a market stall and the owner had only five cuts of meat left. When they’re gone, they’re gone. End of story. Most of the time, however, you’ll hear this phrase in infomercials, on radio ads, and on late night TV spots. The phrase is considered a “motivator” or “call to action.” It adds urgency, and makes people pick up the phone or log on. But the chances of the product actually being gone are close to zero. In fact, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a scam. And if they ever are “gone,” they’ll order more. You may have to wait a little while but you’ll get it. Product manufacturers will always do their utmost to meet the demand with supply. If you want it, you’ll get it.

3. Helps to…

…fight fat. Helps to soften hair. Helps to reduce acne. Helps to strengthen nails. And so on. What does “helps” actually mean though? And how much does it help? If you see someone has stalled their car, and need a push, you can help by throwing all your weight into it. Or, you can push the car with your little finger. Both are helping, but one is not actually doing much to change the situation.

The idea that a product helps to do anything is meaningless without saying just how much it helps, and how it does it. The next time any product or service claims to help you with anything, take it with a huge grain of salt. It may not hurt the situation, but there’s no guarantee the money you’re spending is worth the result.

4. No [Product/Service] Is Better!

Think about that phrase carefully for a second. You can also swap out the adjective to one of your choosing — faster, smoother, thicker, greater, bigger, smaller, and so on. At first, you are under the impression that the product or service being advertised is the best in its class. However, that’s not what the phrase is saying. What it really means is that this particular product or service is no worse than what else is on offer. For instance, any number of detergents could claim “no soap cleans better,” but it doesn’t mean it’s the best.

It just means it’s as good as the others. Tricky language for sure, but completely pointless. Also, the same applies to the phrase “unsurpassed.”

5. Up to [XX Percent] Off!

Talk about misleading. Any time you see a headline or sale sign that makes this claim, think about what it actually means. If someone told you they would pay you up to $10 to walk their dog, would you expect $10? They are within their rights to give you a single, solitary $1 bill for the service. It is accurate. $1 is up to $10. When stores use this, they will probably have one or two items that are at that threshold; they say up to 75 percent off, and in the back of the store, on a dusty shelf, is one old DVD set marked down by 75 percent. The rest of the store is “up to 75 percent off,” which can be as little as just 1 percent off the original price. Commonly, you’ll see most of the sale items are between 10-25 percent off. Very few will hit the magic number, even when a store is under liquidation. You are being given the best possible scenario for saving money, but you may only get that much off one or two products, if you’re lucky.

6. Part of a…

…complete breakfast. Part of a balanced diet. Part of a healthy routine. Well, let’s analyze that for a moment. Nitrogen is part of the air we breathe, and so is carbon dioxide and methane. But we want the 21 percent of the air that is made from oxygen. Death is part of life. Urination is part of your daily routine. In almost everything, there are both good and bad parts. So saying anything is “part of” something isn’t saying all that much. And even if it is good, how much of it is needed to become significant? Can you eat a whole bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast and get the nutrition you need, or is it only part of it? How much? Without specifics, it’s all just waffle.

7. Designed to [Insert Claim Here].

Let’s imagine that you’re watching a TV ad for a new type of bleach, and the ad said “XYZ bleach is designed to remove every single stain in your bathroom without you lifting a finger.” Well, that’s great! But just because something is designed to do something, it doesn’t always follow that it will actually do it. You could create a fruit smoothie that’s designed to increase your energy levels by 50 percent. If it only raises them 2 percent, it has failed… but the intention still stands. So be very wary of anything claiming it was designed to do something, or formulated to produce a certain outcome. Unless it can back it up with legitimate testing and research, it’s just a hollow phrase. (By the way, this article is designed to inform and entertain you. Hopefully, it does… but there’s no guarantee.)

8. Made With 100 Percent [Product].

Here’s another claim that says nothing and yet implies so much. You will see it on all kinds of products. Made with 100 percent pure cranberry juice. Made with 100 percent Brazilian coffee beans. Made with 100 percent cotton. Here’s the thing. The claim does not say that the product is actually comprised of 100 percent of anything. It is simply stating that part of it used something pure. Think about it. Cranberry cocktail that’s primarily apple juice is still made with 100 percent pure cranberry juice; it only makes up about 10 percent of the contents, but it was a pure ingredient when it went in. The fact that they used a pure ingredient is meaningless without the other part of the equation — namely, how much of that ingredient is in the final product. Only then is it informative.

9. This Product Could…

…save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance. This product could help you lose weight (as part of a calorie-controlled diet with plenty of exercise). This product could make you look 20 years younger. Could is not will. It merely indicates the possibility that something may or may not happen. President Trump could resign tomorrow; it’s not likely, but it’s possible. Intelligent life could be found on other planets next week. Again, the chances are against it, but is it possible? Of course. So, when a slogan uses “could” you have to remind yourself that the promise is worthless. Yeah, it could help you lose weight, but it could also make you gain weight. It could make you look younger, but then again, it could make you break out in an awful rash. Could has no place in a brand statement. It’s fluff.

10. Risk-Free

Another popular phrase from the world of infomercials and hard-sell direct marketing TV spots is the old “risk-free” gem. “Call now for a risk-free trial!” “It’s risk-free. What have you got to lose?!” Well, let’s think about this for a moment. Risk-free literally means “free from danger or risk of harm; a safe place.” How does this apply to ordering a new kitchen gadget from a TV spot? It’s some tricky wording that makes a lot of people believe the offer itself is free. That, of course, is not true. There will be a way for you to get your money back, but it may not include all that you originally paid out. And, it’s possible you could be stuck on the phone for hours, or have to jump through a multitude of hoops to get a resolution you’re happy with. Does the whole “risk-free” verbiage cover that process? Who’s to say, really? Was your life in physical danger? Did you at any time come to any harm? Did you finally get your money back? It’s a phrase that promises a lot but delivers very little substance. And should you think that risk-free guarantees you the outcome you want, think again. It’s not a legal term, and you’ll have a hard time fighting the company in court, should it ever come to that. 

Watch out for phrases like these, and keep an open mind whenever you are viewing or listening to ads of any kind. What at first sounds impressive may actually be a big nothing burger.