For all you “Mad Men” aficionados, the hit TV show is partially based on the life of Draper Daniels, a creative director at Leo Burnett Company, an advertising firm with a global reach. Agency founder Leo Burnett was legendary even in his day (he lived from 1891 to 1971) for the advertising icons he created including: Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, the Marlboro Man and the Maytag Repairman.
According to Burnett, overuse of adjectives is the bane of advertising copy. To prove his point, Burnett had his staff review 62 failed ads. What he discovered was that 24.1% of the words in the failed ads were adjectives. By way of comparison, only 13.1% of the words in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are adjectives. Thus, Burnett’s recommendation was to use MORE verbs and FEWER adjectives. I’ve been using the list of The 108 Most Persuasive Verbs for several years now … I didn’t create them, but I do find them effective. Overuse of adjectives also turns off your audience. After all, what would you think if someone told you they were a “Cutting edge, robust, disruptive thought leader who adds value at the end of the day?”
With my hat off to the creators of The 108 Most Persuasive Verbs (and to Leo Burnett), there are some cases when using more adjectives can be better. There are four categories of adjectives you should use in your writing, and particularly in your storytelling:
- Visual Words – Connect to a person’s sense of sight. (EXAMPLES: bright, colorful, hallows, narrow, shiny)
- Auditory Words – Connect to a person’s sense of hearing. (EXAMPLES: bang, bark, gobble, hiss, squeak)
- Kinesthetic Words – Connect to a person’s sense of touch. (EXAMPLES: breezy, bumpy, sharp, slippery, wooden)
- Gustatory Words – Connect to a person’s sense of taste. (EXAMPLES: bitter, chocolate, minty, sour, spicy)
Why are these types of adjectives important? Each person has a different dominant mode of communication. Some people are visual learners. Others are auditory learners. Still others are kinesthetic learners. Your stories should appeal to your audience’s learning styles. If you know your audience’s predominant learning style then you should stack your stories with auditory words so you can connect with it more effectively. For example, teachers are often auditory learner.
As for gustatory words no one is a gustatory learner. Nevertheless, appealing to a person’s sense of taste is never a bad idea.
All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.