We all know that some words can mean more than one thing. What’s worth remembering is that words can also imply something. A phrase can mean different things depending upon where it is seen, what images it accompanies, and even what time it is viewed. Context is important when it comes to considering your word choices for copy.
Connotation is the thing a word signifies, which is not necessarily the same as what it means. A perfect example is when it comes to cakes and calories.
Calories are, when not consumed in moderation, a bad thing. But no food manufacturer is going to want their packaging to admit that their product is bad for you. They legally have to tell you about all the bad bits that go into it, however they’re going to do it in the most positive way possible.
This is why you’ll notice the nutritional information on a lot of cake packaging tells you that a serving ‘provides’ X amount of calories.
Same meaning, different connotation
‘Provides’ is a much better word than ‘contains’ where calories are concerned. ‘Provides’ is a strong, generous word. It suggests you are being given something. Those 10,000 calories in 100g of cake are a gift. This cake is providing for you. It’s looking after you. What a lovely cake, doing all that. It’d probably wash the windows if you asked it to.
A more serious example
The other problem with connotations is that your marketing can be perceived to be giving out a completely different message than it actually intends to. Budweiser are a very pertinent example of this. The company have been the target of a social media storm by releasing bottles of Bud Light with the slogan ‘the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night’.
I think the meaning behind this slogan is meant to be that by having a light option, you can still enjoy a drink with your mates. There’s no need to refuse to join in. However, it is painfully obvious, considering the issues surrounding alcohol, consent, and multiple horrific news stories in the past few months, that this slogan comes across as condoning rape culture.
It’s a completely innocent message with a terrible connotation. It’s kind of remarkable that no one in the marketing department managed to pick up on it, really.
Changing a single word can transform your copy
Thinking about the subtle implications of your word-choice can help make otherwise dull copy into something positive and exciting. Read the example on moisturizer for men and women in my post on semantics for another good example.
Have a look at the example for a taxi service below, and you’ll see just how different a message can be by taking the connotations of your word choice into account:
“Getting you where you need to go” – focus is on the fact you’ll end up where you need to be: destination, not the journey.
“Carrying you where you need to go” – caring. Sounds supportive, tender. Focus is on a good journey.
“Driving you where you need to go” – convenience. Focus is on the service being provided.
“Bringing you where you need to go” – focus is on the objective. Acknowledges the stages of your journey and the taxi’s role within it.
They all mean more or less the same thing, yet they convey a different message. It is by considering these implications when writing your copy that you can convey your company voice and objectives.
When was the last time you thought about the meaning behind your marketing copy?