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Only is Massive!

Only is massive

One of my favourite tasks is reviewing other people’s reports. A fresh pair of eyes and a critical view is a great way of stress testing arguments and work data harder.

It’s also a great way to fine tune the headlines and cut out those words or phrases that ring alarm bells – the weasel words as we call them. Research unfortunately has a lot of these.

For example:

‘On the other hand’ = we can’t decide you work it out

‘Some’ = we don’t know how many

‘Slight increase’ = no change

‘Really strong’ = we want to persuade you this is good (also see ‘very’)

‘At the present time’ = I know this isn’t what you want to see so I’m going to dangle the prospect that it might change 

My favourite at the moment is ‘only’.

‘Only’ is frequently used when we want to make a potentially large number seem small. E.g. Only 10%

But 10% can be massive; 10% of the UK population is 6 million people, 10% of people buying my product would be a dream. So we need to challenge the ‘only’ why is it there? Where is the context that justifies it?

Only 10% of people mentioning my brand in a giving situation sounds awful – but if you’re hitting me with an ‘only’ show me the context – what do my competitors get, what did we achieve last quarter, what do the 90% say?

My favourite game when faced with an ‘only’ – and one I encourage you to try – is switch it  for something bigger, something more positive, something sexy. I like awesome, gigantic or massive.

If it still works – if there is no evidence to contradict it then someone is probably trying to convince you of something …

Warning this game is catching and I now find myself playing it through the day …

‘Only three months till Brexit’ = ‘A massive three months till Brexit’

‘This amazing sofa is only £2995 = ‘This fairly standard sofa a massive £2995’ 

Here’s an example from a glossy publication recently distributed by an agency that was trying to make a point about brands needing to treat customers as people (a noble cause no doubt).  To support their case they ran a survey. I’m going to guess the numbers came out higher than they were hoping for because we have a severe case of ‘the onlys’.

Yes it’s petty and childish, but 19% (of which there is a worrying amount) can be a big number. 27% of people saying every interaction with the brands is excellent – could be a great thing?

The deluge of ‘only’ should ring alarms.

Don’t give me only.

Only is massive

By Pete Canning


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