You Say You Want a Revolution(ary Brand of Motor Oil)

Most copywriters are sticklers for words, and I’m no exception. So at least once a day, I’m bound to come across something that offends my delicate sensibilities.

Earlier today, I heard a radio ad for a motor oil that was touted as “revolutionary.” I thus was reminded that revolutionary has become one of those annoying marketing words whose meaning has been completely bastardized.

Take “unique,” for example. defines unique as “existing as the only one or as the sole example.” By the way, they actually underline “the,” which emphasizes the point I’m about to make: Namely, that there are very few things in the world that actually are unique.

That’s why when a client of mine recently described his software as unique, I gave him hell. And I’m happy to say I won that battle. The word “unique” did not appear anywhere on his sales sheet.

Anyway, back to “revolutionary.” The first definition at focuses on “a sudden, complete or marked change,” while the second definition goes for “radically new or innovative.” So the bar for revolutionary is a bit lower than unique. But still …

I’ll stick with my original point: A motor oil would have to be very special to qualify as revolutionary. And I’m willing to bet this particular motor oil is only incrementally better, if not incrementally worse, than whatever is sitting next to it on the shelf at your local Pep Boys.

Still confused about when it’s acceptable to use “revolutionary”? Here’s a handy guide:

Legitimately Revolutionary

Likely Not Revolutionary, Under Any Circumstances

I hope that clears things up.

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  1. […] I have my standards. I don’t use the word “unique,” for instance, unless something actually is unique (rare). In general, I try to incorporate a bit of […]

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