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This excerpt from Philip R. Nulman’s book, "Start
Up Marketing: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Advertising, Marketing and
Promoting Your Business," was printed in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
August 12, 1998. The book is published by Career Press ($16.99, 287
pages). Call 201-848-0310.
How to Make Cliches Count
Everyone remembers what Dirty Harry says. When Dirty
Harry said, "Go ahead, make my day," an entire nation (make
that world) remembered that phrase. I’ve heard it thousands of times,
from people in the media to people in the street. It really wasn’t
what he said, it was how he said it. Effective communication is broken
down in the following manner:
Words: 7 percent.
Tone: 38 percent.
Nonverbal: 55 percent.
process. If a speaker were to deliver a speech without coming out
from behind the podium, without the proper voice inflection, without
the appropriate gestures, it would be just a speech. But if the same
words are spoken by someone who exudes energy, enthusiasm, vigor and
vitality, someone who looks the audience in the eyes and has posture,
performance skills and an attitude, the same speech can be absolutely
Words and pictures comprise most of creative marketing. Sometimes
we use one to the exclusion of the other, but mostly we use them
Remember, even if we’re marketing in print without the use of
graphics, or on radio or with audiocassettes, and we’re creating
imagery. Language, when used effectively, is, by its very nature,
Let’s say you’re running a sale ad for the installation of gas
grills. Your competition begins each spring with ads that tout
Spring With Savings, "Spring Into Value & Economy," that, by
of overuse, have no meaning. How can you communicate these ideas and
still be heard? By forgetting the standard nomenclature and
instead on creating statements that are attention-getting and
to your selling proposition. For example: "Our competitors charge
you an arm and a leg. We stop at the wrist!"
You can still introduce the specifics of the sale, tying in the theme
with accompanying words and perhaps a graphic statement such as a
wrist turning a wrench! You’ve just conveyed the exact same message
as your competitor — sale, value, economy, percentage off —
but you’ve done so in a way that has said it without the use of
words, words that ultimately no longer have value themselves. This
is creative communication because it uses an alternate means of saying
the same thing. Cliches become cliches because they’re said time and
time again without being enhanced. When they build upon the acceptance
of a phrase or statement already in peoples’ collective consciousness,
cliches and double entendres have a valid place in marketing
When I was looking for a direct-mail approach to solicit liquor
for a major magazine, I wrote a headline that simply stated:
who’s pouring into our publication?"
Then I listed the major brands that were already signed up as
I got prospective advertisers’ attention immediately by creating a
double entendre and relying upon language that had already saturated
our thinking. But I used the language in an enhanced way that would
make people take notice of something they were accustomed to hearing
but not with this particular message.
American humorist Garrison Keillor once said,
you have to look reality in the eye and deny it." It’s a good
thought. And it often relates particularly well to creative marketing.
When you look at your business, recognize that there are two ways
of seeing it. First, by viewing it as it really is and what it
income, opportunity, and hopefully, enjoyment. Next, view it as a
caricature with exaggerated features and a funny voice. Stretch the
business. Reshape it. Enjoy denying the realities. See the
of expanding the way you think about your business.
Recently, I was asked to consult on a mailing program for the American
Sugar Growers. The purpose of the direct marketing effort was to
corn growers to form an alliance with the sugar growers and
to the corn growers that they were facing a 25-cent reduction per
bushel in revenues because of foreign subsidies supported by certain
powerful leaders in Congress. It was our job to alert the corn growers
(some of whom were unaware of the subsidies or the amount of their
product that was used for sweetening soft drinks) that they faced
such an economic downturn. The idea of using a well-known cliche —
a line from a children’s song — came about because it perfectly
fit our cause. The headline of the mailing piece was simply:
who doesn’t love you a bushel and a peck?"
When you flipped the cover, the advocates of the subsidy appeared.
The basic message of the copy was: Even though you may believe that
these are your heroes, they’re in favor of reducing your revenue by
25 cents per bushel of corn. On the accompanying panel was a chicken
scratching at feed, which happened to be corn. The headline: When
they’re done all you’ll be left with is chicken feed. The use of
created compelling messages, reissuing these phrases as purposeful
selling statements. In this case, we were selling a proposition
to create action; we wanted the corn growers to recognize the threat,
read the information and respond. The concept and the copy clicked.
The message was easy to understand and relate to, and they could
it because it was interesting, provocative and entertaining. When
we give our audience a reason to applaud, when we offer them an
to respond because we’ve presented our case in a novel fashion, we
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