The 15 Most Powerful Words in Advertising

These 15 Proven Words Will Bring You Big Results

Love is Power
Love is Power. Getty Images

Words sell. 

It's true, even more so today than in the previous 20 years. The reason—social media, which is primarily a text-based way to communicate. And as more brands take to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogs, words will become even more important. 

The question is, which words?

Well, the psychology department at Yale University studied many words in the English language and discovered the following to be the most powerful, especially when trying to sell or persuade.

Here are the 15 words you should always consider using in your campaigns; and if you pay close attention, you'll discover that three of them are actually in the subhead of this article. 
 

15: FREE

There's no doubting the efficacy of the word free, but it has been rampantly abused over the years. When something is genuinely free, a consumer will sit up and take notice. However, these days it is often followed by the dreaded asterisk (*), or coupled with other words (risk-free or free trial) which soften the meaning. However, free samples, free shipping, free returns, buy-one-get-one-free, and other offers make this word a consistent power player in the list. 
 

14: SEX

Just like free, a word like sex has suffered from all kinds of misleading statements. There's no getting away from the old "SEX! Now that we have your attention, let's talk about insurance." But humans are sexual creatures and respond to the word; after all, there is a reason pornography dominates the internet the way it does.

So, when using the word, be mindful of relevancy and context. You can use variations on the word, like sexy, or sexual, but it should always be applicable. It's one of the reasons magazines like Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and Seventeen consistently have the word sex on the front cover. It sells. 
 

13: NOW

Instant gratification is important to people, especially in this age of fast, free shipping, and immediate downloads of movies and music.

Indeed, Amazon's Prime Now service includes the word in the title. "I want it now. Give it to me now." Again, you have to put up or shut up with a word like now. If you cannot give people something now, don't promise it. Of course, there is the opposite use, and that's getting the customers to ACT NOW. The word has power, especially when coupled with language that creates urgency. For example, "call NOW and you'll get free shipping and an additional product free!" 
 

12: EASY

Not only do consumers like things fast, they like them easy. As Mitch Hedberg once joked, " I would like to see a product that was available for three easy payments and one complicated payment." It's funny because, in reality, no-one wants anything to be complicated. Make life easy for the consumer, and use the word to point it out. Not only is it easy to get, it will make life easier once you have it. 
 

11: BEST

Another contender for most the most abused word on the list is best. When used correctly, like "best in class" or "winner of Car & Driver's best new SUV of 2017" it has real power. People want the best, and if they can get it at a price they can afford, even better. They want the best phone, the best TV, the best jeans, the best shoes, and the best watch.

However, best is also subjective in advertising. "World's best cup of coffee!" Really? Says who? Be ready to back up the use of the word best with concrete evidence, or the consumer will shrug and ignore you.
 

10: NEW

We all want new, even if it's not really all that new in reality. We want the next new phone model (which is why lines for the latest iPhone (see Trends in Mobile) span the block, despite having very few upgrades). We want new cars, new clothes, new shoes, new tastes, new smells, and we're willing to pay for it. 
 

9: SAVE

Hands up if you don't want to save time or money. Exactly. Saving money is something that 99% of us want to do. Even the richest of the rich want deals, they just get them on more expensive purchases. If you can genuinely promise to save someone some money, you'd be foolish not to point this out.

Of course, HOW you talk about it is just as important as what you're talking about. Do it wrong, and you will come across as either a pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap merchant, or untrustworthy. And as for saving time, well, time is money, which brings us right back to something we all want to save.
 

8: SAFETY (or SAFE)

We demand safety from our products. We want to know that our investment is safe, or that our children are playing with toys that meet the highest safety standards. We want food that has been inspected, and we want safe choices in clothing and shoes. Now, the question then becomes how to talk about safety. Sometimes, it will be something that naturally comes up, such as baby products or items that are designed to provide safety. But sometimes saying the word "safe" can be negative, as it brings up an issue that is considered a no-brainer. For instance, "our burgers are 100% safe to eat." Well, why wouldn't they be? What's the deal? What are you saying? So, be careful with its usage.
 

7: PROVEN

When you have a brand new product, not a new version of an existing product, there's a hump that you need to get over. It's basically "buyer beware," because the customer is dealing with an unknown. They can wait to see what the reviews on the product or service are, or they can ask friends and relatives. But one way to get over this hump is to provide the proof yourself. For instance, a famous cat food brand often used "8 out of 10 cat owners who expressed a preference said their cats preferred it." Wow, 8 out of 10. Must be good, it's proven. I'll try it. As Seen On TV products also do this well, with product demonstrations that prove a point. So, don't just say it, prove it.
 

6: LOVE

This one has multiple meanings. You can be "in love" with something (like new shoes) or you can "love" how well something works or performs—"I love how white it gets my whites." Either way, love is a strong word. Of course, you must be judicious in its use. It's one thing to say "you're going to love the way it smells" when talking about a perfume. It's quite another to say "you will instantly fall in love with our toilet cleaner." Really? No one falls in love with a toilet cleaner (unless, of course, it's part of a very tongue-in-cheek campaign). Remember, love may work well, but don't lay it on too thick. That's the power of love. 
 

5: DISCOVER

Did you notice this one in the headline? Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. But it's a prompt that advertisers use to say, "you're going to get something out of this, it's worth your time to keep reading." Or when it comes to product packaging, it's worth trying. Discover is a promise of something more to come. Like unwrapping a gift on your birthday, discoveries always bring a sense of excitement and adventure. And any time you evoke those fond childhood feelings, you're on a winner.
 

4. GUARANTEE

This word is a safety net. Just think of the way you use it in everyday life, and you'll see it's power. "I guarantee I will be home by 5pm" is your way of removing any doubt. "I guarantee to pay you back tomorrow" is an unbreakable promise to make (even though it doesn't always work that way." In advertising, a guarantee is a promise made by a corporation to a consumer, and it's seen as solid. Whatever you do, only use it if you can absolutely back up that guarantee, or your credibility is done. Money-back guarantees are particularly powerful because you remove the risk from trying a new product. And if you're worried about going broke, don't be. Invariably, only a very small percentage of people are so annoyed by a product that they will ask for a refund; and the time it takes to mail off the information is usually too much trouble for them.
 

3. HEALTH

This is used a lot these days, and not just when talking about physical health. Perhaps the most commonly-used variation is "improve your financial health," and it works because we all know what good health is. If you can make a promise of good health, be it in a food, service or something else, you are doing well. But again, don't abuse the word. KFC did this when promising their "healthy" Kitchen Fresh Chicken. The consumer is gullible sometimes, but not often, and not to that degree.
 

2. RESULTS

Another word used in the headline of this piece, results is a word that also means success. And this word is powerful because it's a promise that helps you rationalize the purchase. "Oh, well if this gets results, it must be worth it." If you "guarantee results" you've just upped the ante. We all want results, whether it's from a household cleaner, our bank manager or the President of the USA. If they deliver, you feel satisfied. If they don't, well, don't expect re-election.


1. YOU

Still number one after all these years, and with good reason, YOU is the most powerful word in advertising for a reason—it's personal. Let's talk about you. You are interesting, and you find yourself interesting. Let's be honest, when it comes to you, you're all ears. If I make a promise to make people rich, you may be interested. If I promise to make YOU rich, that's a different story. You is a word that must be used when talking to your customers, because that's who you're addressing. And when you do that, you're talking about a person's favorite subject. It's so powerful, many writers (especially in direct response) will not use a headline unless it has you in the title. I wouldn't go that far, but you is definitely something that YOU should always consider.