Monkey Business

by Lou

Any good copywriter worth his or her salt will tell you to avoid clichés like the plague. They say using a cliché weakens your copy. They claim it shows lack of imagination. That’s too bad, too. Because clichés often capture what you want to say colorfully. They are instantly recognizable and understandable.

However, there is a way to use clichés that allows you to use their images in a new way. It’s a technique often used by spin doctors to use that image that everyone knows and allow it to slip into people’s minds in an novel way. Of course, it also persuades the listener/reader to their side of the argument.

All you have to do is reverse, exaggerate, extend, or add additional information to the original cliché and apply it like you usually would.

For example, Christine Hanson, spokeswoman for Democratic Representive Jay Islee, said that the CIA’s attempt to stop Valerie Wilson from publishing her memoir was like, “trying to get the cat back into the bag.”

CLICHÉ: Let the cat out of the bag. NEW USE: Get the cat back into the bag.

Do you see how that works? It uses the same imagery as the original cliche, but it allows the reader/listener to see a new meaning, capturing some of the original color. . .and, more importantly, to be subtly influenced by it.

CLICHÉ: Opened up a can of worms. NEW USE: Trying to seal that can of worms. (implying it’s too late) OR: Opened up a barrel of worms. (implying that it really is a HUGE mess)

CLICHÉ: Drew a line in the sand. NEW USE: Drew a canyon in the sand. (implying impossibility) OR: Used water to draw a line in the sand. (implying weakness)

It all depends on the meaning you want to get across in a novel way.

When you use a modified cliché in your copy, you get familiarity plus surprise – a winning combination. It should be pointed out that these modified clichés are often used in disparaging remarks. Useful when talking about your competitors in your ads.

FOR THE NLP STUDENT. I don’t know about your internal experience when you come across a cliché in someone’s communication. But for me, it depends on where I see or hear it. It also depends on who is saying it. If it’s from someone who should be an expert communicator I get a strong Ki. Sometimes it’s just disappointment, other times it borders on nausea. But if they use a modified cliché, I get a sharp Vi followed by a strong Ki that could be surprise or delight. What’s your internal experience?

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