New Year New Ideas? Copywriting clichés

Gyms and others will promise New Year New You

Brace yourself.

We’re about to see the next batch of January ads from hairdressers, recruitment firms, clothes stores, coaches, gyms and others sharing that traditional cliché headline, “New Year, New You”.

And I bet half the folks who use it reckon they’ve come up with it for the first time.

I just tried searching for the phrase on Google and it returned nearly two million results.

Yet year after year it keeps on appearing. And, I have to be honest, I was once guilty of using it myself. I was young and inexperienced, still finding my way in copy. I was writing hundreds of adverts a year for a large university – fantastic training – and, to my shame, used it to promote our part-time courses.

Fortunately we measured response rates pretty well in that pre-digital age and after trying all sorts of smart arse headlines, my most successful advert over several years was: Evening Language Classes. Talk about does what it says on the tin.

Now, of course, I am much older and more experienced so naturally every piece of copy I write is cliché-free. Like CJ in David Nobbs’ The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, I avoid cliché like the plague. A cliché to me is like a red rag to a bull.

Ah, if only. But I do try. Harder than most in the world of B2B copywriting, if a quick scan of adverts, emails and brochures is anything to go by.

In the world of business-to-business services marketing, every client list is ‘enviable’, every ‘solution’ bespoke and experience is always alliteratively extensive. Approaches are always ‘unique’ even when they are nothing of the sort (very little is unique anymore) and naturally, everyone is ‘passionate’ about everything.

I reserve the right to add to this list.

George Orwell famously wrote: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print,” in his article Politics and the English Language. I’m not sure how much experience he had in marketing but when it comes to readable writing he knew his stuff.

George Orwell’s rules in full

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.