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The Most Powerful Word in Advertising: You.

Woman with coffee

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie was published in 1936. With a title like that, is it any surprise the book has sold over 30 million copies since?

Dale was a genius.

He knew two things: what his readers wanted, and what the reader's audience wanted. And he knew a fundamental rule in life: most people are rather self-absorbed.

Yes, the most interesting subject on earth to you is you. Your life. Your drama. Your successes. Your failures. Your goals and aspirations.

And what do you want? What do most people want? To be connected to others, of course. To be loved. It is the single most valued need in humans.

What else do we want? We want to matter. That means, we want to have influence on the world. How do we do this? By influencing others.

So it stands to reason, 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' addresses the two most basic and fundamental needs we all have. And Dale Carnegie became a very rich man as a result.

Advertising operates under the same principle. We are trying to influence behaviour. We are attempting to incent action with words. In essence, we are trying to appeal to our target audience's life, values and aspirations.

If people are motivated by subject matter that is a reflection of themselves, it is quite clear why YOU still remains the most powerful word in advertising.

Unfortunately, I still see and hear a lot of "we" out there in copy, narrative or creative briefs from my clients. "We're Canada's number one..." or "We get back to our customers within 24 hours..." and "We are proud to be the fastest growing in our industry..."

How do these statements serve the customer's needs?

Too many companies forget, that in advertising it is time to let go of their own egos and self-talk. It's not about explaining what your company stands for. It's about explaining how you can solve your audience's problem. How can you enhance their lives with your brand or your products? And more importantly: how can you make them feel connected, cared for and even loved?

The single most powerful word that helps accomplish this in advertising is "YOU." That's because 'you' want to be understood. 'You' want to trust you're making the right decision. You'll stand behind a product if it speaks to your value system. You don't want false testimony. You want your problem solved.

So how can a company meet that goal if it's talking about itself all the time? Rather, if the language is 'you-focused', suddenly we create a connection. A bridge between our brand and our customer. We are saying "we care about you and what you need. We understand."

Let's look at a few examples of company-centric headlines and the customer-centric alternative.


We have the strongest coffee in New York City.

YOU Re-do:

When you positively can't get through your day.


We have the quickest turnaround in the industry.

YOU Re-do:

Sometimes, you need faster than fast.

See that? By emphasizing the benefit for 'you' the reader, the copy appeals on a direct and emotional level. The reader relates and can see what the product does for them: "Yes, I need very strong coffee when I am exhausted and have a long day ahead"..... and "Yes, I can't afford to use a slow service - I need the quickest service possible."

The points below appeared in Dale Carnegie's preface. Notice how he "sold" the reader on the content. It's a masterpiece of using 'you' or 'your' in every single point.

Twelve Things This Book Will Do For You

  1. Get you out of a mental rut, give you new thoughts, new visions, new ambitions

  2. Enable you to make friends quickly and easily

  3. Increase your popularity

  4. Help you to win people to your way of thinking

  5. Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done

  6. Enable you to win new clients, new customers

  7. Increase your earning power

  8. Make you a better salesman, a better executive

  9. Help you to handle complaints, avoid arguments, keep your human contacts smooth and pleasant

  10. Make you a better speaker, a more entertaining conversationalist

  11. Make the principles of psychology easy for you to apply in your daily contacts

  12. Help you to arouse enthusiasm among your associates

And now you know what to do with your communications. Whether you're writing it yourself, or employing someone to help, make sure you don't go down the path of company bravado. Use "you" wherever you can, and the benefits will follow.

You should know that Christine Thompson is a Vancouver-based freelance advertising copywriter and owner of Jellybean Communications. You can check out more about how she can help you at

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