Some phrases you’ve heard so many times that you can’t help but roll your eyes when someone uses them. They’re called clichés. And I bet you cringe at them as much as I do.
What’s a cliché?
A cliché is an expression so overused that it’s lost its meaning and originality.
We use clichés to explain abstract ideas with familiar concepts. Because they’re so commonly used, you don’t have to think too much when you hear a cliché — you immediately pick up what it means.
The problem is, though, that people tend to use them way too often (and in a wrong context). So we’ve become tired of clichés and now see them as a lack of an interesting way to explain things.
I’ll focus on clichés in copywriting, but they’re common in other media too. For example, the so-called corporate art style counts as a design cliché.
Clichés outside everyday speech
While clichés are the easiest to call out in everyday speech, you can also spot them on websites. These phrases might be hard to notice at first, but if you see yet another distraction-free app launched on Product Hunt, you can’t unsee them.
Why you should avoid using clichés on your website
Nobody will shame you for using clichés in casual settings. You don’t have to sound witty every time you open your mouth.
But if you’re writing content for your website, you gotta be more careful. Why?
In copywriting, every message consists of 2 ingredients:
- Core — the information that you want to communicate
- Packaging — the way you present your core (so it sticks)
Let’s see how it works with an example.
Tracy’s struggle with internal emails
Tracy is a CEO of a company that uses email for internal communication. But they’re not happy with how it works — it’s slow, messy and archaic. They want to tell the team that they’re switching to Slack.
‘We’re switching to Slack for our internal communication.’ — that’s the core of the message. You get what it means. But it’s dull. Tracy needs to wrap it in an interesting packaging to make their team involved in this change.
‘Never send an internal email again. Say hello to Slack.’ — that’s their packaging. They know that the team hates email, so they promise to ditch it for good. The team will get this message.
But if you wrap your message in a cliché, the result will be worse than if you were to settle on the plain core. Imagine if Tracy said ‘Empowering our team to streamline internal communication’. Empower is a strong word, but it’s been used by so many companies, it lost its kick. And don’t get me started on that streamline thingy.
8 copywriting clichés to avoid
Now, let’s see some examples of clichés in website copy.
Take it to the next level
This doesn’t sound too exciting. We don’t know at which level we’re currently at. We might be just starting at level 0 — which means that with this product we’d climb to level… 1.
But, out of how many? 2 or 100? Because if there are hundreds of levels, then this promise is underwhelming to say the least. And imagine saying that to someone who’s already living in a penthouse.
Around the end of 2010s, we realized that our digital tools had become overwhelming. Whether because of chaotic product management or weak vision, they were flooded with features screaming for our attention. So people became, rightfully so, tired.
As that trend continued, designers ‘invented’ focus mode. When enabled, it hides the majority of the UI and highlights only the elements that need to be there. And marketing people loved it.
But what’s the benefit of that? Hiding useful features behind some stupid hover interaction? Or admitting that half of your UI is redundant? If that’s your unique value proposition, something’s not quite right.
It’s broken and we’re gonna fix it
Apparently, broken can be very subjective. I, for instance, would assume that when something is broken, it doesn’t work at all. Even if I’m not a huge fan of my email client, it still sends and receives emails, doesn’t it?
Well, according to the writers of this headline, broken means not perfect. Cause they often say that spreadsheets are broken too. Huh, I think millions of IT professionals disagree.
It just works
This one has gotta be the most depressing and underwhelming of all the clichés. It just works? That’s the bare minimum I’m asking for!
Especially when there are other products on the market that do the same thing. I’m sure they also work — so the question you should answer is how yours works better. But don’t you dare change the copy to ’Invoicing that just works better’.
Making it happen
Again, this is way too general. Things often happen by themselves, without any startup’s help. I’m gonna go easy on this one though because we’re guilty of using that claim back in the day.
When you see a headline that says something is powered by artificial intelligence, what do you imagine? Probably super complex algorithms. Or maybe a DALL·E generated robot thinking about what decision will be better for humanity. Well, most of the time it’s just a bunch of basic conditional loops.
Ah, yes, the Swiss knife of copywriting clichés! Sure, it’s nice to use just one app for multiple things. But when something claims to replace everything, it’s usually half-baked.
People prefer to use multiple apps that are excellent at what they do than to switch to 1 mediocre that does it all.
We put people first
I’m pretty sure that if you tour the offices of big tech companies, you’ll find a poster with this cliché hanging somewhere. Pity that they seem to forget it when they hire more people than they need just to fire them when in trouble. Sounds like business is about money, not the corporate family, after all.
But that’s the problem with vague company values in general.
Not all clichés are bad, all the time
Don’t leave this article thinking that clichés are forbidden. It’s not that you can never use them. Like any rule in copywriting, you can break it as long as you know what you’re doing.
Like any rule in copywriting, you can break it as long as you know what you’re doing.
I’ll give you an example. Just a few sentences above, I called out companies that say they care about people — but if you look at our culture page, you’ll see exactly that claim!
What’s our defense? That this claim is not just an empty promise we slapped together because it looked cool. Putting people first has been our strategy from the beginning — and it shows:
- The team’s well-being and growth is always the #1 priority, even if it doesn’t make us the most money (e.g. if a client who’s paying us really well also happens to be an asshole, we fire them).
- Everyone gets 20+ vacation days. If you’re sick or need a day off to take care of your mind, you get it — no questions asked.
- There’s no need to go to the boss to ask for a raise. He’ll literally come to you to talk about it. Twice a year.
- Whatever you need to work or work better — you get it. A comfy chair, super-duper course or groundbreaking software? Seriously, just ask — there’s no budget limit.
- Besides touring Poznań for food & drinks every couple months, we bring everyone together for a workcation or a retreat around twice a year (we went to Barcelona a few months ago!)
And that’s just the major stuff we do to live up to our promise. So yeah, maybe talking about how you care about people is a cliché. But if you’re actually doing it — it might not be such a bad word choice.
How to avoid clichés in copywriting
Using clichés in copywriting is often caused by a lack of attention dedicated to thinking about your website’s content. Many spend weeks messing around with the visual details while the copy that they’re using is vague, generic and unoriginal. And when the design is finished, no one bothers changing the clichés.
How can you make sure that your copy gets enough love? Let’s see, based on how we approach our design projects.
Define your brand messaging
When designing, we often work on a (re)branding too. This way we can create a cohesive image of your brand. But the whole thing isn’t just about how things look — before we touch any visual design, we define the brand messaging.
This process allows us to understand your audience, establish your tone of voice and suggest potential slogans that we can later use on your website. Getting on the same page about this makes writing the copy so much easier — we know how it should sound like.
We kick off our (re)branding projects with the branding workshop — you can read more about it in Natalia’s article.
Write first, design later
When you create a website, what comes first: copy or design? The short and easy answer is copy. What your website looks like is only the medium of the message that you communicate to your visitors.
We know that thinking about your pitch when staring at a blank document is tough, so that’s another step we can help you with. We can either review your outline, suggest edits and proofread the final content, or help you write the copy from the ground up.
A couple of resources that might be helpful:
- Above the Fold — Julian Shapiro’s playbook
- A Great Landing Page Copy — good landing page copywriting examples