Mentioning bad things isn’t necessarily being negative

Business owners and managers often suffer from a common allergy. When they review copy for a website, blog post, or newsletter and see wording they perceive as negative, they break out in hives. That could be understandable. We’ve long been urged to accentuate the positive and emphasize the good things. Mentioning something that’s negative is … Read more

Accentuate the positive, but own up to the negative

Long before Norman Vincent Peale penned the book that uncovered the power of positive thinking, advocates of similar philosophies promoted positive attitudes and messages as a critical component of success. As the Second World War drew to a close, Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” dominated the airwaves and jukeboxes. Even today, you’ll hear people urge … Read more

Negativity isn’t always a bad thing

You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, and may have been taught to “put on a happy face,” no matter what the situation. That’s why when I reference something that could be perceived as negative in copy, many clients are quick to request its replacement by something wearing a bigger smile. Happy talk isn’t … Read more


You didn’t see it? It’s right there. Right over there. You have to be able to see it! For criminy sakes, it’s an elephant! It’s huge! Are you telling me that I’m the only one who sees it? No, I’m the only one who’s willing to admit that it’s there.

You’ve probably heard the “elephant in the room” expression used before. Typically it comes up when the family is gathered for a special event, and everyone pretends that they don’t notice that Uncle Leonard is snockered again, or that Cousin Louise is wailing loudly in the corner. There are those nervous glances at one another, but if we all keep pretending, maybe nobody else will notice, either.

Read more


We all know that positive thinking is powerful. In fact, from an early age, we’re taught to put on a happy face no matter what happens. And, when I reference something that could be perceived as negative in copy, many clients are quick to request its replacement by something with a bigger smile.

That’s not always a good idea. Sometimes, what’s negative is far more impactful and communicative. For example, if your competition has been falsely suggesting that your product has a flaw that shortens its service life, hitting the misperception head-on is going to be infinitely more powerful than tiptoeing around it.

Read more


I suspect that anyone who has ever lived in an apartment or a college dorm knows that toothpaste offers a fast way to hide nail holes and other small injuries to the walls. And anyone who has ever tried to sell a house has probably heard that slapping a quick coat of paint on the walls can make the house look newer and fresher. Nearly everyone who visits a dentist subjects his or her teeth to the most vigorous brushing an hour before the appointment. We also seem to have a growing percentage of the population who thinks a body spray can replace a good-old-fashioned shower.

Those are all quick cover-ups, and we all know that they don’t really fool anyone. Oh, they might divert our attention, but when we look (or sniff) more closely, we see the truth very clearly.

Read more

What you say, what they see

One of my favorite stories about word choices is the one about the hospital that decided to open a walk-in clinic to compete with local freestanding clinics. The medical staffers who served on the hospital’s board chose to call it an “ambulatory” clinic, because to medical folks, “ambulatory” means that an individual is capable of walking.

The expected business didn’t materialize, and the hospital didn’t understand why consumers weren’t flocking through the doors. So they conducted a little bit of research and uncovered the reason: consumers saw the word “ambulatory” and assumed that it was intended for patients who arrived in ambulances.

Read more