Nov 18, 2020–I have a shameful secret. Over the years I’ve dabbled in “the marketing arts.”

This is a field filled with exuberant claims, arcane metrics, and secret phrases whose sole function is to persuade unsuspecting marks to buy your pricey chotchkes, attend your seductive ritual, or partake of your addictive confections.

These days, the explosion of the internet makes everyone a social media expert. They try to convince you they will move your business or service to the top of the search engines. The adage is still true that half of all marketing works; it’s just that no one knows which half.

Let me pull back the veil and share some of the tools and tricks used by practitioners of the marketing arts:

1) Use of words that sound like more than the sum of their letters. These are infiltrating our language as this area draws an increasingly upscale trade.


Is it renown or renowned? No one seems certain if you are “a chef of renown” or “a renowned chef.” Which of these does a better job implying you make a killer mac and cheese?


Everyone now munches on artisanal bread spread with artisanal honey and artisanal cheese, while sipping artisanal wine. It sounds like food you build rather than bake.


There is lots of nestling going on in the Hill Country, and I’m not talking about inside B&Bs. This is nestling as in “wineries nestled among the wildflowers” and “lodging nestled in the Hill Country.”

I was mocked early in my career–deservedly so–for overuse of “nestling,” along with such flowery gems as “flowing rivers of cool libations” and “sizzling mounds of spicy sausage.” Now I’m more apt to say come out to sit, eat, and drink.

truly unique

It was a coworker who didn’t even speak English as her first language that pointed out the folly of this phrase. “Unique” requires no qualifier. A thing is unique, or it is not. Yet you find this usage sprinkled liberally through every description of the latest incarnation of a business or product.

2) Yet

Speaking of “yet,” this small word boasts a powerful resume as a qualifier. The same person also mocked my early attempts at writing advertising copy where I relied heavily on “yet” as a word to connect phrases. The seduction is its ability to cover the gamut of a consumer’s desires.

Here are some phrases I pulled from actual advertising brochures, many of them mine:

  • Comfortable, yet elegant
  • Spacious, yet cozy
  • Elevated, yet tasteful
  • Authentic, yet entirely new and exciting
  • Large, yet compact
  • Speedy, yet controlled
  • Pricey, yet affordable
  • Aspirational, yet attainable
  • Modern, yet timeless

I apologize for foisting these upon innocent readers. They are lame, yet lame.

3) Making claims that claim nothing

I actually heard this one while listening to old-time radio. It was an ad for gasoline. The line was this, really–“NO gasoline gets better mileage.”

Think about that. Gas is gas. You can make that statement about any gasoline sold. No gasoline gets better mileage. It’s like saying, no water is wetter. Or no rock falls to the ground faster.

Yet this claim-that-is-not-a-claim convinced millions of consumers to purchase this brand of gasoline.

4) Hyphens are your friend

Liberal use of hyphens in is another way to dress your advertising copy in pretentious finery:

  • family-owned
  • rustic-meets-upscale
  • period-authentic
  • romantically-outfitted
  • steakhouse-style
  • time-honored
  • German (or French or Swiss or Italian)-enriched

And the award-winning phrase: “award-winning”

5) A popular place in ad copy is “where X meets Y.”

  • where past meets present (time travel!)
  • where tradition meets Texas
  • where flavor meets fun

I understand these tools serve the needs of marketers who are saddled with getting across a lot of information in a compact, readable style. I’m not proud of it, but I have used all these conventions at one time or another, and will do so again if you pay me sufficiently.

What do you expect? Copy writers only have 26 letters to arrange and rearrange.

It’s impossible to do that in truly unique ways.