The Language That Matters: Why The Words Are Still The Most Powerful Marketing Tool

When it comes to crafting the perfect marketing message the reality is how you deliver that message isn’t necessarily as important as the message you’re trying to deliver.

Of course there’s plenty of research to suggest that video content can bolster your business’ reach – if done properly and in a way that’s relevant to your industry – but the bottom line is it’s the words that drive the project.

No matter how the digital revolution will continue to transform how we connect with the world around us, the essence of effective marketing remains rooted in a fundamental element – the power of words. 

A couple of years ago when Excalibur Press pivoted from mostly a news, content, copywriting and PR agency to multidisciplinary, full service marketing agency a business consultant asked me to consider changing our tagline:

Unleash The Power Of Your Words

It wasn’t intentional but I genuinely stared at them in disbelief and hugely confused.

They said something along the lines of: “but what you do now is more than just the words”.

Horrified, I replied: “Words are the very basis of everything we do, get the words wrong and nothing else matters.”

It took me a couple of years to understand why we were in two completely different places about this and then I had a lightbulb moment.

The consultant was thinking literally – as in “we were previously an agency who predominantly wrote stuff”.

It was a face palm moment for me but also a bit of a realisation that not everyone truly understood the power of words.

I wondered, was I going to have to spend the rest of Excalibur Press’ lifetime explaining to people that words are more than just what’s written on the page, it’s the storytelling, the key messages, the USP, the conversion journey and without the right words to describe what we want to do and how we want to do it, it would impossible to execute any marketing strategy or plan – the brief is just as important as the message for me.

Semantic Infiltration

I was recently watching renowned Consumer Behaviour Psychologist Dr Paul on TikTok and he spoke on the topic of semantic infiltration.

He described it as a: “sneaky little trick used by politicians, PR people, and companies where the words we use are very carefully picked to make something sound better, worse, or just different than it really is.”

For those who aren’t familiar with this term in essence semantic infiltration is a strategic communication tactic where specific language is intentionally used to subtly influence perceptions and attitudes. 

In a nutshell it’s about carefully choosing words and phrases that frame a message in a particular way, thereby guiding the audience’s understanding and response to that message.

@drpaulpsychology

Semantic Infiltration. The power of words #semanticinfiltration #consumerpsychology #drpaulpsychology #powerofwords

♬ original sound – Paul – Paul

Cornerstone of Marketing

Dr Paul describes semantic infiltration as a “cornerstone in understanding the power of language in marketing”.

In his video he gives a number of examples: “You’re watching the news, and the reporter talks about high bracket tax relief to stimulate investment and spending. Now, this sounds great, right? Like a big weight is being lifted off your shoulders, because it’s a relief of tax, you know, you’re being relieved of the tax burden. 

“But then, you realise that what they’re really talking about are tax cuts for the rich. Suddenly, tax relief doesn’t sound so wonderful. It’s a very clever way of making something that benefits a very few people sound good for everyone.”

The phrase ‘tax relief’ conjures a positive image, suggesting a burden being lifted. However, as Dr Paul points out, this often refers to tax cuts for the wealthy, a benefit that might not be as universally welcomed as the term ‘relief’ implies.

Altering Perception

The choice of words in marketing can dramatically alter perception. The term ‘pre-owned vehicles’, as Dr Paul notes in his video, sounds much more appealing than ‘used cars’. 

It’s a subtlety that can change a consumer’s perspective, making a product seem more desirable.

In the supermarket aisle, this linguistic strategy is equally prevalent, explains Dr Paul: “Let’s take a stroll down the cereal aisle in a supermarket. 

“So you’re going to choose one. And you’ve decided and the reason you’ve chosen it is because it says crafted from the finest natural ingredients. Now that sounds healthy, right? 

“But when you think about it, this is quite literally just a way to dress up a box of processed cereal, natural ingredients, doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with sugar. Because sugar is after all, a natural ingredient. So as high fructose corn syrup.”

Strategic Tool

Language isn’t just about the words, it’s a strategic tool that we use to shape our thoughts and influence the decisions people make on a daily basis.

Whether it’s selling products, reporting the news or portraying food items, the words chosen are often meticulously crafted to sway opinions and guide consumer behaviour.

In a world inundated with information, understanding the subtle nuances of language becomes more critical than ever. As the industry evolves, marketers must continue to harness this power of language, crafting messages that resonate, engage, and ultimately drive success.

Examples of Semantic Infiltration

In both positive and negative cases, the key element is how language is used to frame a concept, product, or idea, and the impact this has on public perception and behaviour.

To give you an idea of how might be able to use semantic infiltration in your marketing here are some positive and negative examples of how it could be used:

Positive Examples of Semantic Infiltration

Empowering Language in Health Campaigns: Public health campaigns often use empowering language to motivate change. For instance, referring to someone as a “survivor” rather than a “victim” of a disease can instil a sense of strength and hope.

Inclusive Language in Social Campaigns: Social campaigns might use inclusive language to promote diversity and acceptance. For example, using terms like “differently-abled” instead of “disabled” fosters a more inclusive and respectful view of individuals with disabilities.

Environmental Sustainability: Brands promoting sustainability may use terms like “green” or “eco-friendly” to encourage positive environmental practices. This can raise awareness about environmental issues and encourage more sustainable consumer behaviours.

Mental Health Awareness: Changing the narrative around mental health by using terms like “mental wellness” or “emotional health” instead of focusing on “mental illness” can reduce stigma and encourage a more positive view of mental health care.

Workplace Culture: Using terms like “team member” instead of “employee” can create a more inclusive and collaborative workplace culture, emphasising the value and contribution of each individual.

Negative Examples of Semantic Infiltration

Greenwashing: Companies may use terms like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” in their marketing without implementing genuine environmentally-friendly practices. This can mislead consumers about the true environmental impact of their products.

Misleading Health Claims: Food companies sometimes use terms like “natural” or “wholesome” in products that may still be unhealthy. This can mislead consumers into thinking these products are healthier than they actually are.

Political Spin: Politicians often use euphemisms or vague language to obscure the truth or downplay negative aspects of policies. For instance, using “enhanced interrogation” as a euphemism for torture.

Financial Product Marketing: Financial institutions might use terms like “credit builder” for high-interest credit cards, which can mislead consumers about the potential risks and costs.

Real Estate Marketing: Terms like “cosy” or “charming” might be used to describe small or outdated properties, potentially misleading buyers about the true nature of the property.

Using Semantic Infiltration Ethically

This tactic is widely used in marketing, politics, and public relations. It’s a powerful tool because it works on a subtle level. The audience may not even realise their perception is being guided. 

For example, a food product described as ‘artisanal’ suggests craftsmanship and quality, even if it’s mass-produced. The word creates a perception that aligns with what the brand wants to communicate.

However, it’s important to use semantic infiltration ethically. It should never be about deceiving the audience but about highlighting aspects of a product or service in a way that resonates with them. Think of it as putting the best foot forward, but making sure that it’s still your foot.

For any marketer, understanding and applying semantic infiltration can greatly enhance your communication strategies. It’s not just about the product you’re marketing, but how you frame it with your words. This skill, when honed, can significantly impact the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

Semantic Infiltration In Action

Big brands know and understand the value and importance of semantic infiltration in their marketing and because of this they execute it with great flair and finesse.

Here are five real-life examples of semantic infiltration in marketing campaigns by well-known brands:

Apple’s “Think Different” Campaign: Apple used the phrase “Think Different” to redefine the perception of their products and users. 

Instead of focusing on technical specifications, the campaign associated Apple products with creativity and individuality, influencing consumers to perceive Apple products as not just technology, but as a lifestyle choice.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign: Dove redefined beauty standards by using the term “Real Beauty” to describe everyday women, as opposed to traditional models.

This approach shifted the focus from idealised standards to celebrating individual, natural beauty, influencing consumer perception of beauty products.

McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” Slogan: McDonald’s used the slogan “I’m Lovin’ It” to transform the fast-food experience from being perceived as just convenient to also being enjoyable and fun. 

This positive, emotional association helped reshape the brand’s image.

Nike’s “Just Do It” Slogan: Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It” reframed the brand from being just about athletic apparel to embodying a motivational and empowering lifestyle. 

This phrase encouraged consumers to associate Nike with personal achievement and perseverance.

Starbucks’ “Third Place” Concept: Starbucks redefined the coffee shop experience with the concept of a “Third Place” – a place between work and home. 

This not only changed how consumers viewed coffee shops but also elevated the Starbucks brand to represent a lifestyle space, not just a place to buy coffee.

How Important Is Language In Today’s Marketing?

The rise of visual media, particularly video content, has undeniably transformed how brands engage with their audiences. However, amidst this visual revolution, the essence and power of language, whether written or spoken, continues to play a pivotal role in crafting compelling narratives and making a lasting impact.

The dominance of video in marketing strategies is evident, driven by the surge in social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube. Video content offers an immediate, engaging way to capture the audience’s attention, leveraging the power of visual storytelling. 

Yet, it’s crucial to recognise that the core of effective video content is often rooted in its use of language. The words chosen in a video script, the tone of the narration, and even the text displayed on screen are what truly convey the message and evoke emotions in the viewer.

The Power To Evoke

The importance of language in today’s marketing landscape lies in its unique ability to connect with people on a deeper, more personal level. 

Words have the power to evoke imagination, provoke thought, and resonate emotionally – something that is not always achievable through visuals alone. 

For example, a well-crafted slogan or a compelling narrative in an advertisement can stay with the audience long after the visuals have faded. It’s the language that often shapes the viewer’s perception and memory of a brand.

In a marketing context where personalisation and direct engagement are becoming increasingly important, the role of language becomes even more critical. Written or spoken, language allows for a more tailored approach, speaking directly to the individual needs and emotions of the audience. 

This is particularly true in mediums like email marketing, social media posts, and podcasts, where the choice of words can significantly influence engagement and conversion rates.

While the appeal of video content is undeniable in today’s fast-paced digital environment, it is the artful use of language that often forms the backbone of the most successful marketing campaigns. 

Whether it’s through a compelling script in a video, an engaging blog post, or a personalised email, the written and spoken word possesses an enduring impact, capable of shaping perceptions, influencing decisions, and creating lasting connections with the audience

Storytelling and Semantic Infiltration

Telling stories isn’t always enough for brands, being able to intertwine a message that matters into your story is vital for longevity of a campaign message.

Storytelling must be intertwined with the careful strategic use of language to shape perception and evoke emotion.

We don’t want to just tell a great story, we want to subtly infuse that narrative with language that resonates on a deeper psychological level with the audience. 

This blend of storytelling and semantic infiltration, allows a brand to embed its values and messages within the narrative in a way that feels natural, yet is profoundly impactful.

Storytelling, when harmoniously blended with semantic infiltration, becomes more than just a tool for engagement. It transforms into a strategic instrument for shaping brand perception, creating narratives that not only captivate and inform but also subtly guide the audience’s beliefs and attitudes. 

Scroll to Top