Owning the edge: signaling difference when claims all sound the same

I heard London Calling by the Clash playing on the Muzak in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe’s recently. I quite enjoyed hearing it, but had to chuckle: If the Clash is playing on Muzak, where is the edge these days?

It’s gotten so cool to be different, that everybody claims to be different, typically in the same ways as their competitors. So what happens when you really are different?

It’s a strange situation when you truly are an outlier, that all your claims, in the short hand of copywriting, rather than differentiating you, actually camouflage you into the crowd.

Terms like “leading edge” become labels for mediocrity. The promise of “integrity” can be read as ethically average. Simply because they are put in play so often.

Ad agencies are a great example. What agency doesn’t claim to listen and to dig deep and to be strategic, not just creative? This can be exceedingly frustrating to agencies who really do the legwork and have no way of bragging about it.

The difference doesn’t come across in the claim, but in how you claim it. The writing and images used signal difference in a way that the claim alone cannot.

When an  Asset Management firm uses a term like “friendship” rather than the cliche of “partnering”, it sends a ripple through the marketing matrix. When an ad agency admits to being driven by a “fear of failure”, it makes the claim of strategic rigor that much more meaningful. These writing choices signal difference where claims often fall short.

These days, even edgier positions are common place and have to be paid off in writing that reflects an alternative mindset. After all, they’re playing the Clash in Trader Joe’s.



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