Frankly, Does This Phrase Still Work?
How often do you use the word "golly"? Have you ever used the word "phat" to describe something you found really incredible?
People who have something in common often share a similar vernacular. From the volleyball player who talks about "digging" up every serve to the amateur cook who makes his own roux and ganache from scratch, people use words to connect with other people like them.
That's why this lift note found in a long-term control from GE Capital Insurance (440GEELCA1102) stands out for its continued use of the old standard opener, "Frankly, I'm puzzled ... " It's an expression that is not too common with younger generations, which is why it jumped out at a fellow editor who is in her twenties. Of course, an offer for long-term care insurance is designed to reach a target audience of people 50 and older. This turn of phrase may not sound awkward or different to someone who was born before the 60s or who has a need for this product and is not sure of what options are at his disposal.
Since GE Capital has been mailing this particular package with only minor updates since before 1996, it's more than likely still working for the audience GE Capital selects for its offers. Still, the topic stirred up thoughts of how marketers gauge the appropriate language for the markets they target, and when it's time to tweak a control that has been around long enough to be received by a generation that views life differently than the one before it did.
According to freelance copywriter and designer Ted Kikoler, writers get comfortable using the same phrases over and over, regardless of the nuances of the particular audience for which they're writing.
The idea behind the "Frankly, I'm puzzled" line is right, explains Kikoler, because it's used to arouse curiosity.
For a younger generation, he adds, it might play out as "It really blows me away ... "
Freelance copywriter Ken Schneider agrees that the proposition behind the phrase is compelling, but ponders whether the approach is appropriate for this day and ageespecially since it hints that the person who receives this package is not smart enough to grasp the value of the offer being presented. He says there's definitely room for discussion about whether this kind of message fits today's adult consumer.
Schneider points out that GE Capital will not have to guess when this phrase no longer works for its intended
audience, because results for the package will make it clear when they start to dip. Still, he would not be champing at the bit to change copy on the hunch that the message is not in keeping with current lingo. If it's working, it's working.
While there are no "bingo" words you can sprinkle into your copy for guaranteed success, says Kikoler, copywriters should pay attention to those key words that are specific to the intended market. Copywriters, and Kikoler includes himself in this group, can get caught up in looking for that big benefit that will convince the prospect to buy, but when people get a direct mail package that talks to them like a kindred spirit, they'll buy anything from that writer.
When you speak your audience's language, and get them to open up to you and the offer, it doesn't matter if the word is archaiconly that it means something to the person meant to read it.