Bringing Innovation Back from the Dead

Interesting story in the WSJ about the steady death of the word ‘innovation’.

Like each summer’s mega-breakthrough pop song that hooks you at first, but then gets played to death, the word innovation has been heard and seen so much that it’s all but dead, even if it’s seen everywhere. Says the article:

Like the once ubiquitous buzzwords “synergy” and “optimization,” innovation is in danger of becoming a cliché—if it isn’t one already.

A decidedly unscientific analysis of my own hard drive (via Google Desktop) reveals that I have used the word ‘innovation’ in over 80 individual word documents on my computer. Interestingly, I have it another 150+ times when spelled In-Ovation, the flagship product of one of our favorite clients. And to answer the question that just popped into your head, the In-Ovation product has owned the name since the 90’s, so they were actually ahead of their time.

But that presents the copywriter—and the agency—with an interesting dilemma. What do you do when you have a company or product that is truly innovative? What if the cliché of the day is spot on?

On the one hand, the thesaurus isn’t short on suggestions when you enter the word innovation…and some of them look pretty spiffy (why yes, we would say that new widget is avant-garde!) But then as we all know, if you’re poking around the thesaurus, you’re probably guilty of overwriting.


On the other hand, if you go ahead and use the word (well of course the widget is innovative, everything we produce is), it’s likely to blend into the background of your target and carry little (if any) impact. Fortunately for us, the answer to this sort of dilemma can be found in…

…the fashion industry.

We can revive the word innovation, or really any word, from the brink of death by carefully pairing it with something new. Something that will knock the reader just slightly outside their complacency and give it a new look. Preferably with something that has a direct impact on the plight of the target audience. Let’s look at the undead first.


Cutting-edge innovation


What does that even mean, and why do so many companies clamor for such a blasé designation? Because it’s safe and won’t ruffle any feathers. In short, because it does exactly the opposite of what good advertising is supposed to do. Now let’s put a little creative elbow grease into it.


Finger-saving innovation


Spot-reducing innovation


Mistake-erasing innovation

See the difference. Innovation alone, or paired with the also-so-tired cutting edge slips past the eyes and into the background without so much as a pause. Whereas the others are real, they’re descriptive and disruptive to your complacency.

As with all copywriting, and advertising, the standard rules apply. Specificity sells. Be plain spoken. Think first about what your product does for your customer, and not what it says about you.

Because when can knock your reader even a little bit outside their comfort zone, and force their brain to process what you’re saying, you’re not just creating innovative advertising…you’re adding eyeball-grabbing innovation to your advertising. Advertising that could even pull a word back from the brink of the dead. And that seems like a pretty innovative idea.