Idioms are common phrases that are not meant to be taken literally. People know that you don’t need a hammer to “hit the nail on the head.” When used in advertising, idioms add colorful language and imagery that can connect with customers. However, overuse of idioms can make ads less memorable and potentially confuse some customers.

What Are Idioms?

Idioms are phrases in which the listener must understand its context to understand its meaning, even if the listener knows each word in the phrase. For example, someone can know what the words “hit,” “the” and “books” mean without knowing what “hit the books” means unless he or she was told it’s slang for a diligent study session. Idioms are useful because they help an advertiser express a vivid concept or idea in a few words.

Recognizing Idioms

One way to help distinguish an idiom from other phrases is to consider the phrase from the viewpoint of a foreigner. According to language-learning website Voxy, the most used English idiom is “piece of cake.” Americans know that it means something is easy, but a foreigner will be expecting a sweet treat. While useful for native speakers, idioms should be avoided if your target market includes speakers of foreign languages. The terms also could confuse those who speak English as a second language.

Using Idioms

Idioms can be amusing and make an ad's copy, visuals or video humorous. For example, why not put your competitors “in the doghouse” or encourage your customers not to “get left behind.” It is almost natural for environmentally focused advertising to make use of the the idiom “going green.” Other regularly used idioms include “bite off more than you can chew,” “scratch someone's back” and “let the cat out of the bag.”

Overused Idioms

Although idioms are sometimes useful in advertising copy, they can also appear overused, trite or cliche. Touting that your company is ready to “get down to business” is little more than promising customers something they probably already expected. The competitor’s product may indeed “cost an arm and a leg,” but people viewing your ad may wish you had invested in a thesaurus. As the website Creative Guise points out, commonly used phrases can make for stale and repetitive advertising copy that customers aren’t likely to remember.

Editing Ad Copy

Advertisers should review their copy for idioms that either fail to add useful information or appear cliche. The website 25-8 Marketing points out two idioms that are overused in advertising copy. Writer can substitute “daring” for “pushing the envelope” and “everything” for “the whole nine yards.” Look for idioms in ad copy that make obvious claims, neglect to completely describe the product, fail to back up the ad's claims or make claims that could easily be true for your competitors, as well. It's better to replace these phrases with more descriptive and direct terms, writes the website Business Know-How.