Cliches are overused in the world of copywriting and although a few can work well, most will not. Cliches get bad reputations but that doesn’t mean they are all bad.

What is a cliche?

Cliche is actually a French word meaning “stock phrases”, which shows how long they have been around.  cliches have also been used in literature to portray a message and cliche is itself portrayed as being overused.

A few examples:

  • Caught red-handed;
  • It’s raining cats and dogs;
  • A stitch in time saves nine;
  • You’ve got a friend in me. 

Cliches actually have been used as a form of literary shorthand since at least the early 1800’s, the cliche took off as an adage around 1900 and you can find cliches being etched in stone on monuments ever since that time.

Cliches are phrases that have been used so much that they can be considered to lack originality. Cliches carry the risk of sounding banal, hackneyed or inane at best and manipulative or manufactured at worst.

Which brings us to…

Why are cliches bad for copy?

Cliches are overused in the world of copywriting and although a few can work well, most will not.

Cliche is now synonymous with overused phrases and we instantly think of them as cheesy, even when they are not. However, cliche has come to mean that it is a phrase or saying which has been so overused by advertisers and copywriters alike, is so hackneyed and has become so stale that it is considered “lame” and unoriginal.

Cliche has become used to describe anything that has been overused so much that they have lost all meaning. Cliches are also used as clichés , which can be either cliche phrases or cliche situations.

Most cliches fall into two categories:

1) Cliche Expressions:

Phrases such as “the best things in life are free”; and

2) Cliche Situations :

Usually descriptions, like “out of the frying pan into the fire.”

The problem is not with cliches themselves but how they are interpreted by the receiver of the message, depending on their own experience and knowledge.

For example, if you  were to say “You can’t get anything for nothing”, you would not expect the first thing someone to think of is “free” but more likely, they will be thinking of something totally different.

Cliches are viewed as a short cut way of saying something when you are out of ideas or words and could also be seen as lazy thinking .

Are all cliches bad?

Yes… in most cases you should avoid using cliches. However… they can be useful if used in moderation but doing so should not be an excuse to use them everywhere because it will make your copywriting sound cheesy and unoriginal. 

But there are some cases where you might decide to use one:

1. Using a cliche in copy is better than no copy:  

If you find yourself at the end of your own creativity and have nothing else to say, then write your copy using a few cliches… you know what they say about “any publicity is good publicity”… so write those headlines!

2. If used correctly… cliches can be effective:  

The audience’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter because it has been proven that people will read less on a page as time goes by. So instead of writing long copy with lots of text, simply use phrases sprinkled around which are already familiar to the audience. This way they may only read a few words but will remember those words for longer.

It works for the copywriter because it gets the message across and for the reader as they do not have to read much. It does not need to be used all over copy but in strategic parts like: 

  • Headlines;
  • Quotes;
  • Sub-headings;
  • Call to Actions.

3. Established companies or products

If you writing in question involves an ad or copy about a product that is so established with its target audience, there could be nothing wrong with incorporating cliche phrases. That is because your copy would be trying to take advantage of this knowledge.

Cliches are seen to be safe copywriting phrases to use in copywriting because they have been said and heard many times before. However, copywriters must act responsibly by using them sparingly and only if it will not distract or confuse the audience.

4. Fit a character type or stereotype

The next reason for using a given copy containing cliches could be if you want copy in order to try and fit a certain character type or stereotype.

For example, if it’s meant to be an “East London Mobster” chatting up girls down at the local pub… or if  it’s copy for a “Serious Businessman” trying to be convincing in order to sell products.

5. Have copy stand out from the crowd

If your copy is meant to stand out of the crowd, you could use certain cliches as copy elements:  

For example… if you have a page with ten other ads on it and all of these pages are offering similar services or products that will appeal to a similar audience… then one way your copy might be able to stand out would be by using very different phrases which will make people interested and curious enough to read more.

So there are many reasons why copywriters use cliches… it could simply be because they want their copy to sound like it belongs in that niche, they are saying something safe and familiar or because it makes copy more memorable.

6. If used for humor : 

Copywriters are advised not to use cliches in serious copy because such usage would be interpreted as unoriginal. However, using them in humorous copy could work out well – so long as it comes across as funny go ahead and use them!

Note: humor and copy do not always mix well read our blog post about humor here

Cliche phrases copywriters should AVOID using:  

The following copywriting cliches are overused in copy either by lazy copywriters or copywriters who do not know how to say anything better than what everyone else is already saying :

  • “Once in a lifetime opportunity”
  • “You will never find a product like this again…”
  • “Don’t miss out..!”
  • “Avoid using X if you want Y!”
  • “Discover the secrets of X that only a few people know about.”  
  • “Make money while you sleep…”  
  • “If you want something done right…. do it yourself!!!”

While you might see them a lot, don’t use them, we have tried using them (a lot) and it has been proven that those cliches are less appealing to customers. You risk making your copy bland and ineffective.

Concluding: “If you want something done right…. do it yourself!!!”

When you need copy that really stands out from the crowd… why settle on cliches when you can do better? It is best to stay away from cliche in your copy all together.

As copywriters, we must remember that while some copy may contain cliches, it is more important to write better original copy.

When you are writing copy, ask yourself whether what you have just written is going to make your audience act now or later, if there is no motivation then go back and try again… which brings us nicely on to:

If you want copywriting with originality, creativity and quality content then please do contact us. We write because we love it.

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