Tool #5 Watch Those Adverbs

Updated: Jan 13

Adverbs in advertising content, when utilized at their best, can add a lot of flavor to an ad. However, if they are overdone, modifiers can make your advertising appear pushy, or worse, generic. The overuse of any tool can be detrimental to any marketing campaign. But adverbs are sneaky, and if not correctly used, they can make your ad far from anything stellar.

When NOT to use Adverbs

In his book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," Roy Peter Clark pokes fun of Tom Swift novels because of the overuse of adverbs. Check out this sentence, for example:

"'Look!' suddenly exclaimed Ned."

In this instance, Clark argues that the exclamation point does just that--it gets the point across. Instead, the author chose to use the word "suddenly" before exclaimed as if the reader needs more clarification. The overuse of adverbs can insult your viewer, so beware!

Clark uses other examples to show how ridiculous adverbs are when overused. Here is one of my favorites:

"'I need some pizza now,' he said crustily."

It's hard for me not to laugh out loud when I type that. If you are in the business of selling pizzas, avoid the adverb "crustily" in your advertisements. You might sound too cheesy! (Ok, enough with the puns!)

Take OUT the Adverb

So, when is it appropriate to use adverbs? After all, they wouldn't exist unless they served some purpose in writing. True, but before I go on, let me show you some examples as to when dropping the adverb makes the advertisement clearer and stronger:

"Our company's windows keep you securely safe against hurricane-force winds," versus "Our company's windows keep you secure against hurricane-force winds." Choose secure or safe in this case, not both, because it's redundant.

How about this one: "Brunch is better with deliciously tasty Tea-time Wafers, " or "Brunch is better with tasty Tea-time Wafers." Not only is the second catch-phrase shorter, the alliteration in "tasty tea-time" flows off the tongue more naturally. The alliteration is also useful because it helps people remember that "Tea-Time Wafers" are indeed t-t-tasty.

Alright, Adverbs in Ads

Alright, so the moment you've been impatiently waiting for: when should you use adverbs? Let's start by taking a look at the previous sentence, with a focus on this phrase: "impatiently waiting." What do you notice about these two words? If you said, "They are opposites," then you'd be correct. Mature writers add adverbs to a verb or adjective in the form of an oxymoron. Think of the song, as Clark reminds us, "Killing me Softly." If the song were titled, "Killing me Fiercely," it would not have the same emotional effect. Instead, "Killing Me" is what you are doing here in this case.

Marketers and bloggers of all kinds who persistently hesitate using adverbs in their writing are far better off than those that do. Why? Because you want to say as much as you can in the least amount of words. So, unless you are J.K Rowling, the wealthiest novelist in the world, don't over-do your adverbs. Or, as Rowling might say, use them "timidly."

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Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.


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