power wordsIn the 50-plus years since David Ogilvy published the 20 most persuasive words used in advertising, his insightful vocabulary list remains amazingly appropriate and enduring today.

Admittedly what you write for healthcare requires a more conservative approach than the hyperbole and open-field running that’s allowed in the retail world. But these words can be engaging, attention getting and influential in headlines, email subject lines, social media snippets, ad copy and other medical marketing content.

Alphabetically, here’s Ogilvy’s list:

  • Amazing
  • Announcing
  • Bargain
  • Challenge
  • Compare
  • Easy
  • Hurry
  • Improvement
  • Introducing
  • Magic
  • Miracle
  • Now
  • Offer
  • Quick
  • Remarkable
  • Revolutionary
  • Sensational
  • Startling
  • Suddenly
  • Wanted

But wait, there’s more…

Both society and the media have changed significantly in the past five decades, and—although David Ogilvy’s list continues to be a useful reference—also consider the widely-circulated list of

12 Most Powerful Words in English:

  1. You
  2. Guarantee
  3. Money
  4. Love
  5. Save
  6. Discovery
  7. New
  8. Results
  9. Easy
  10. Health
  11. Free
  12. Proven

As it turns out, this second list of words is commonly—but erroneously—attributed to university research. But regardless of its questionable parentage, the words are creative fodder for effective and compelling healthcare marketing.

Here’s why both lists—especially the word “you”—are useful in health care to gain attention, engage readers and inspire action.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…

In our experience, healthcare delivery and marketing messaging are critically connected to meeting the needs of the individual. Marketing and advertising professionals have long recognized that, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy, human behavior and decision-making are motivated by one of Maslow’s “needs.” [A Theory of Human Motivation, A. H. Maslow, 1943]

All of the words on the two lists above—and many hundreds of other “power words”—are expressions of, or relate to needs of:

  • SELF-ACTUALIZATION: self-fulfillment, realization of personal potential, personal growth
  • ESTEEM: confidence, achievement, recognition, respect, responsibility
  • LOVE: family, affection, relationships, acceptance
  • SAFETY: protection, security, stability
  • PHYSIOLOGICAL: air, food, drink, shelter

So, the secret to creating the most engaging and effective health care marketing content is in using words that draw their power from a direct relationship with at least one of these needs. These and many other words are part of the fabric of people-to-people healthcare delivery. Touch a basic need and your words touch the individual reader.

The enduring book, Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, was written in 1963, updated and released again in 1987, and released yet again as a new paperback and Kindle editions in 2012.

Lonnie Hirsch

Subscribe to the Healthcare Success Marketing Blog

Join 19,000+ fellow healthcare marketers! Get Healthcare Success' latest marketing articles straight to your inbox. Enter your email address below:

Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


Thank you for sharing. Like us to stay in touch with our latest posts.