Knowing the Difference Between Impactful and Cliché


Orsi Korman, Account Director, Content, Red Havas 

National Cliché Day is observed on Nov. 3, along with National Sandwich Day. I only became aware of this riveting fact last week thanks to a morning show host I was listening to in the car, who asked callers to share their favorites in both categories — with countless comical and thought-provoking, alas not very memorable results. For example, something being a piece of cake or the toast of the town makes as much sense as taking everything with a pinch of salt, but then you win some, you lose some. 

So cliché!

A cliché is a phrase, idiom or artistic element that is so overused in everyday life that it has lost its original impact. The word itself is a French term dating back to the 19th century that meant “to produce or print in stereotype.” From conversations to speeches, movies, music and the internet — especially politics or celebrity news — we are exposed to them regularly. And, while they will often draw eyerolls or loud sighs, clichés can also be entertaining because they are so predictable, like a kid in a candy store.

Most clichés start out as highly impactful and transformative messages that have a memorable effect on their audience the first time they are seen or heard. Just think “you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” or “you have to look through the rain to see the rainbow” or “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Similarly to catchy hit songs that are played too often, these clichés have such great initial popularity that people start using them over and over again until they become stale, annoying and dead as a doornail

How to recognize the cliché trap

Along with the jargon, corporate speak and latest buzzwords, clichés are notably present in corporate communications. From the employee of the month who always has a smile on their face to the talented executive who is living proof that anything is possible with hard work and dedication, organizations are pivoting back to their core competencies and transforming their industries, with leaders leaning in and seeing people as their greatest asset, and everyone working together to build customer-centric and data-driven businesses that are well positioned to strike the right balance between profitable growth and environmental stewardship, knowing they can work smarter, not harder.

The first step is recognizing that you are about to use — or have been using — a cliché, as opposed to just employing your fresh, engaging and insightful organizational narrative and supporting messages. Review your copy carefully to make sure all the points are clear, specific and unambiguously non-cliché. It may also be worthwhile to test your key messages with a few employees and/or customers to ensure those stay fresh, engaging and free of clichés. Unless you are planning to use a cliché as a literary tool, the next step is changing it. Consider whether it is an unnecessary filler or a necessary element. If you deem it unnecessary, delete it. If you feel it is necessary to move your story forward, search for synonyms that could work in its place, giving it 110%.

How to use it in a sentence

While it is very easy to cross into cliché territory unintentionally, sometimes it is either fun or necessary to do so on purpose. Clichés can simplify, characterize, facilitate conversation and help connect with your audience. For example, if you are writing for baby boomers, “kids today” will work well, whereas millennials are more likely to relate to something like “adulting is hard.” Above all, everyone understands a true cliché and it has the power to convey your point quickly and easily, so you can take it or leave it.

While “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” irony is also a great form of humor you can employ by using clichés in your communications thoughtfully and appropriately — making sure they will resonate with your audience. Otherwise communications that use clichés unironically may be seen as lacking inspiration or originality. If that happens, it is what it is.

To be honest, ignorance is bliss when it comes to clichés. While all that glitters is not gold, there is plenty of fish in the sea to make your copy stand out, so at the end of the day, if you want to think outside the box and take the bull by the horns — or the tiger by the tail, — be sure to walk before you run as you are wearing many hats so you can hit the ground running and not become a loose cannon creating a storm in a teacup by opening that can of worms, because what goes around comes around, you know what I mean?

Orsi JormanAbout the Author: Orsi supports content creation and content strategy for high-profile corporate, consumer and cause clients of Red Havas — and she could not be happier. Her specialties include writing, editing, ghostwriting, blogging, marketing, digital/social and experiential, all in AP style.