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. Dictionary.com 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 Dictionary.com 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:
- Che Guevara
- The iPod, iPad or most any other Apple product
- George Washington
- The French Revolution
Likely Not Revolutionary, Under Any Circumstances
- Horse feed
- Cleaning products
- Hair extensions
- Lip balm
- Asphalt patching material
- Culinary tea
- Tanning lotion
I hope that clears things up.