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New Word Order

A political spinmeister takes his way with words to the corporate world.

When you're talking to Frank Luntz, choose your words carefully. Under the famed--and infamous--Republican wordsmith and pollster's tutelage, his party dubbed oil drilling "energy exploration," and the estate tax became the ominous-sounding "death tax."

Luntz has worked with major corporations on their messages, too, and has distilled his advice into Words That Work--It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear.

Entrepreneur: What are your ethical guidelines for rewording a concept?
Frank Luntz: If it's accurate, there's nothing wrong with it. The fact is, oil drilling is not what it once was. Things have changed, and corporate America [doesn't] reflect those changes. Entrepreneurship is not just about creating new products and services--it's about explaining them in innovative ways.

Entrepreneur: In your book, you list 21 effective words and phrases for the 21st century, including imagine, results, hassle-free and independent. What advertising phrases are now out of style or overused?
Luntz: When someone says "trust me," you shouldn't. [And] anything that's "new and improved" probably isn't.

I've found that retro ads may make people smile, but [they don't] get people to make a purchase. [But] some companies should have stayed with their tag lines--Coke would have done better staying with "It's the real thing." People are resentful of things that are artificial now.

Entrepreneur: What is the best ad you've seen lately?
Luntz: The iPod ads, because the image is a silhouette. You don't know if that girl is 14 or 29 or white or black or Hispanic, rich or poor. You just know she loves her iPod. People can see themselves in it. It's the ultimate in simplicity--it's just the product.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at

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This article was originally published in the April 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: New Word Order.

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