For all your _____ needs.

In 1990, the Ad Council introduced the now-iconic tagline: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. It wasn’t long before a late-night comic gave us Friends don’t let friends drive Yugos. (The ultra-cheap, compact Yugo was so trouble-prone that NPR’s wisecracking Car Talk duo dubbed it the “worst car of the millennium.”)

Although my twist is no bon mot, I’ll piggyback on the Ad Council’s genius: Friends don’t let friends write copy. Here’s why. The DIY copywriter tends to mimic what he or she sees or hears in the market. That’s not a problem if one chooses good source material. However, pitfalls aplenty await the unwary. Popular ad parlance is filled with limp persuaders, unintentional turnoffs, even downright disincentives. So, borrowing from other advertisers is like juggling samurai swords with your bare hands. It’s damn risky.

For all your ________ needs. This simple, fill-in-the-blank formula is guaranteed to make you instantly forgettable. Some recent sightings: footwear, cake decorating, dog grooming, and psychoanalysis. (Okay, so I made up the psychoanalysis example. But just wait—it’s bound to appear eventually.)

You benefit from our over ____ years of combined experience. Another fill-in-the-blank, this one with ambiguity, poor syntax, and fallacious reasoning all rolled into one mind-numbing puff.  Your customer will shudder on multiple levels.

State of the art. This is so tired it makes everyone within earshot anemic. As an alternative, elevate a benefit (not a feature) and put the buyer squarely in the experience. For example, consider the difference between a “state-of-the-art program for leadership development” and the description you read here.

We will not be undersold. In the era of Internet shopping, there’s virtually no secret about the going price. Which leads skeptical shoppers (who isn’t skeptical?) to think you aren’t astute enough to set your price where it should be. Or, they may have to negotiate with you to get the right price. Neither scenario works in your favor.

Why go anywhere else? This sliver of rancid rhetoric is only slightly less potent than a stun gun for creating purchase paralysis. Why prompt your customer to think of all the reasons not to do business with you?

Lifetime guarantee. What in Merlin’s name does this mean? The lifetime of you? Of the company? Of the product? Granted, this phrase probably works better than it should. However, if the specifics are rife with limiters and qualifiers, avoid using your guarantee as a major selling point.

What’s in your wallet? Other, equally obnoxious iterations include What’s in your driveway? and What’s on your wall? (If you guessed the latter refers to paint and wallpaper, you are wrong; it’s from a hunting outfitter.) I wonder: How long until a marketer in the food and beverage space asks, What’s in your stomach?

These are but a few examples. Feel free to share your favorite here. Consider this an open invitation “for all your venting and commenting needs.”

John Michael O'Leary