Updated: Jan 13
SEO gatekeepers will tell you it's blog suicide to write in the passive voice. While I do agree that you shouldn't shower your posts or ads with the passive voice, this doesn't mean you should entirely avoid it either. So when is it appropriate to use the passive voice in your marketing content?
When To Use Passive Voice
"Use passive verbs," Roy Peter Clark tells us in Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, "to call attention to the receiver of the action." So who should be receiving the action? Well, for one thing, you should always be viewing the client as in need of your services or product. This thought process is marketing 101. The use of passive voice works when you, as a company, view yourself as the guide for your hero--the client.
Imagine your client is a helpless bird struggling to fly because its wings have been clipped. They need to find another way to fly. So their wings have been replaced by you. See the use of the passive voice in two of those sentences? You are not responsible for your client's prior failures. The client needs you now because their business is failing. The use of the passive voice here demonstrates a need for you. Without you there to fix them, the client will continue to lose. This is ultimately what you want them to think.
Two Examples of Passive Voice Advertising
Let's take, for example, the slogan, "Belleair Storage: Where you are treated like family." I wrote this catch-phrase for a storage facility. It is written in the passive voice (just like this sentence). Why would I do this? Well, how could you get the same point across in the active voice? "Belleair Storage treats you like family." Here's the problem with this: the subject, Belleair Storage, receives the action "treats," not you, the customer. The sentence becomes more about Belleair Storage performing the action and less about you receiving it. So, I utilized a passive-aggressive technique to get you feeling "like family" at Belleair Storage. The best part is, I was still able to put the company's name first in the sentence.
When we want the action (the verb) to be received by the object (as done-so in this sentence,) write in the passive voice. If you don't, you could come across as accusatory. In the article, "How to Use Passive and Active Voice in Business Writing," the author states, "Passive voice is helpful when you want to draw attention away from the person performing the action."
Let's pretend you own a company that sells baby cribs. You need a slogan that directs attention to the invention doing the work, not the customer performing for the device. After all, the parent wants to buy a crib that helps them get a good night's sleep, too. So, let's put the responsibility on the company's crib, not the parent. I will do this by drawing attention to a problem that needs to be remedied (<-- just used passive voice again!):
A parent's good night's sleep is often cut short by a waking baby in a crib. You need a crib with advanced technology so you can rest again. Secure Cradles understands that getting a good night's sleep is every parent's dream.
The first sentence is written in the passive voice (like this one) because I am trying to make a connection with the tired parent who really needs sleep. The blame has been placed on the defective crib because it is causing the baby to wake up and cry. The parent is in desperate need to find a cradle that will lull their child to sleep and keep them sleeping for longer durations.
This is not to say that the parent isn't ultimately responsible for their child. What it does mean is the parent is responsible for buying a crib that is parent-resting-approved. This is why the parent wants to buy a crib with features that keep their child sleeping throughout the night. In this situation, the cradle, not the parent, is keeping the child asleep. In return, the parent sleeps better because the crib is doing its job. Ultimately, the passive voice, in this case, places the responsibility on the device's ability to keep that child sleeping.
If you want to place the blame on someone, use the passive voice. Just be careful who you are blaming. Politicians often use this technique to deflect any blame on themselves. If you want to sincerely apologize, always use the active voice.
Too Active For My Taste
However, sometimes the active voice can come across as "macho," and therefore should also be used carefully (<--another passive sentence). For example, the famous Macho Man Randy's slogan "Snap into a Slim Jim" came across as rude and turned me off from buying and eating Slim Jim's. It's too demanding, and I don't want to feel forced to purchase anything.
Next time you see an ad, check if you can tell if it's been written in the active or passive voice and see how the technique makes you feel about its message.
If you feel your wings have been clipped, schedule a free consultation with me today. Let's get your business soaring again!
Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.
How to Use Passive and Active Voice in Business Writing [Web log post]. (2018, March 23). Retrieved from https://www.printwand.com/blog/how-to-use-passive-and-active-voice-in-business-writing