Exclusive to all readers: the ultimate list of iconic marketing hyperboles!

I know you want to give your business the best possible chance, but please don’t resort to describing it in the clichéd, exaggerated terms that every one else out there seems to want to use. Spend five seconds contemplating the literal meanings of some of the words on this list and you’ll realise exactly why they’re so awful.

1. Ultimate
Modern life is fraught with danger, courtesy of the “ultimate burger”, the “ultimate rollercoaster”, the “ultimate flooring”, the “ultimate detox” and the “ultimate ethical meal” (to cite just a handful). I’m particularly intrigued by the the progressive approach to population control that is the “Ultimate Day” – “an exciting competition exclusively for 16 and 17 year olds – to win an Ultimate Day!”

2. Unprecedented
I’m willing to bet that most business people use “unprecedented” when what they really mean is “quite good”. Before drawing on this word ask yourself if what you’re describing really has never happened before. I’m only willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the US mortgage broker that claims to have “demonstrated unprecedented professionalism” when creating home loans for hundreds of clients. Presumably, all their competitors were sub-prime sharks.

3. Innovative
It’s not enough to be merely competent these days. To stand out, your product or service has to be the ground-breaking, boundary-pushing, edge-cutting child of your (no doubt unprecedented) creative thinking. Estate agents, bankers and lawyers all now claim to be innovative. Still like the sound of it?

4. Iconic
What do an overpriced lip gloss, an impractically tall lemon squeezer and a squeaky voiced, not terribly bright footballer have in common? Yep, they’ve all been labelled “iconic”. Thinking about elevating your product to the status of icon? Just to let you know: since Melanie C took on the “iconic” role of Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, the word has been equated with a fictional woman you’ve never heard of, from a musical you’ve never seen, played by the least-famous former Spice Girl, whose existence you’d forgotten about until now.

5. Stunning
Stunning food. Stunning cars. Stunning houses with stunning wallpaper. It’s time to replace this hyperbole with a synonym whose meaning hasn’t been eroded by overuse. I vote for “stupefying”.

6. Exclusive
A label invariably attached to the overpriced tat proffered in Sunday magazines by exploitative “collectables” firms. Use it if you want to be associated with such distinctly unexclusive items as the Kitten Dreams Fabergé-inspired Jewelled Musical Egg, which features over 125 hand-set ‘gems’ (inverted commas theirs) and the inscription ‘Kittens Leave Paw Prints On Our Hearts’.

7. Designer
Want to part from their money the people who are middle-class enough to sneer at the people who buy Kitten Dreams Fabergé-inspired Jewelled Musical Eggs, but who are still insecure enough to want to fill their houses with overpriced tat? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “designer radiators”, “designer sponges”, “designer cleaning fluid”, “designer water” and, yes, “designer tampons”. All paid for with a “designer mortgage”, no doubt.

What would you add to the list?

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16 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Will Blackstock says:

    I really loved your description of “iconic”. “Unprecedented” makes me wince every time I see it. It’s rather like “unique” which, to my mind, is a synonym for “not unique”. Seriously, unless your business model involves using carrots instead of computers, you’re not unique (and even then, although you’re unique, you can’t surf the internet on a vegetable so it’s not like you can read this).

  2. smfifteen says:

    “luxury” – riverside apartments, tissues, shortbread…what aspect of our lives isn’t luxurious these days?
    “to-die-for” – can anything genuinely be “to-die-for” – except, perhaps, a good coffin design?
    “bespoke” – as a lover of good tailoring, I cherish this word, so it upsets me to see it’s heart ripped out through such wanton misuse. It actually comes from “speak before you buy”, rather than merely meaning “individual service”, or “we will give you what you ask for”. Hence, we’ve arrived at a stage where something like buying a cream puff in Greggs may be labelled a “bespoke” service.

  3. Mark says:

    Great post, I’d agree with luxury, a very overused word.
    Recruitment ads are a rich source of exaggeration, does that count as marketing?, every company seems to need “dynamic” staff. “Self starters” and “go getters” seem to be in demand too.

  4. Brad Shorr says:

    Clare, If this is not the ultimate list of hyperboles, it must be at least penultimate. One of these days I’d like to do some split-testing with PPC ads to see which draw better – the ad describing the product as “stunning” , or the ad describing it as “passable”.

    P.S. You did leave out one of my favorites – “unique”. So few things truly are.

  5. Frank Norman says:

    The most annoying of terms is ‘New and Improved’ – I mean, choose one of these two words to describe your product, not both!!..it cannot be new AND improved.

    Other than that, please do not forget:

    But I do like

  6. Am I the only one who feels sorry for these poor words?

    It’s not their fault they are often used poorly. Yet on this list and others I’ve seen on different blogs, the words are described as “awful” or are subject to the “hate” of the blogger.

    Isn’t it the writers who are awful, not the words?

    (That said, I think many writer misuse “excellent”, but not me.)

  7. I would like to add that many writers don’t properly proofread their work – me included!!

  8. Peter says:

    What about ‘state-of-the-art’ – what art? It’s often used in research, science and technology. I can’t resist using it! Or ‘cutting-edge’ – ouch!!

  9. Clare Lynch says:

    Will – thank you for that fantastic carrot/computer line – I plan to use it next time a client tells me they’re unique.

    smfifteen – great suggestions, and thank you for the fascinating etymological information about “bespoke”. Have you noticed, too, that it’s invariably used in the tautological duplet “bespoke and tailored”?

    Mark – thank you for giving me a great idea for another post – I’m off to trawl those recruitment ads. How insufferable it would be to work for a company entirely staffed by dynamic, go-getting self-starters – perhaps that’s why I’m my own boss?

    Brad – interestingly, I’ve had quite a few hits to this post. I plan to do your test for you by running the same post under the heading “A passable list of unremarkable words”.

    Frank – more great suggestions. I particularly like “one-of-a-kind”, which is clearly favoured by those smart enough to realise that “unique” is overused but not smart enough to realise that . . . oh, yes. Hmm.

    Stephen – Good idea to blame the writers. The words above are all fine when used in the correct context by a writer who appreciates their meanings. But all writers can be forgiven for not proofing their own work properly – it’s nigh-on impossible to spot your own mistakes.

    Peter – ah, the classics that are “state-of-the-art” and “cutting-edge”. Anything that requires that many hyphens should sound a warning bell, shouldn’t it?

  10. Clare, I have to add a favourite of estate agents here in London “just moments from” which generally means you can walk there if you have hours of uncommitted time in your day and enjoy a vigourous hike. It is not quite hyperbole but it is over inflated.

    i loved the post and it obviously hit a spot with lots of people. Well done!

  11. Clare Lynch says:

    Amanda, Estate agents provide a rich seam of inflated language. I’ve blogged on them before and plan to again. My favourite recent one was: “the balcony has views towards St Paul’s”. Note the careful avoidance of the use of the all-important word “of” there.

  12. Jody Bruner says:

    Great post, Clare. It’s epic, as my kids would say.

  13. Moira says:

    i can offer a solution to your tall lemon squeezer problem – buy a miniature one. And besides, the great Frenchman is rumoured to be appalled by the idea of anybody actually *using* it; it’s purpose is to start conversations. Works rather well, don’t you think?

  14. Moira says:

    I meant to cap that i, of course.

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