Can I?

“Never use the word can.”

That’s what we’re told consistently at the agency I work at. It’s a weak word… a word with with no conviction. Instead use ‘will’. I will, we will, you will. Belief sells, lacklustre doesn’t.

At first, I agreed. Because, of course I knew, weak copy won’t have any effect. ‘Can’ was omitted from all my work, as I vowed to take the more forceful, hard-sell approach that was drilled into us.

But ‘can’ kept creeping back into my writing. I’d change it to ‘will’, but it often felt unnatural and clunky. And after another ‘can’ disappeared into the abyss, I stopped for a second and thought, why shouldn’t I use it?

‘Can’ insinuates choice. And what’s more powerful than choice? ‘Can’ says – we will do it if it’s right, not just because we have to. It’s quietly confident, not brashly arrogant.

‘We will help you’ says – you have no choice. It says, we’re a tunnel vision company after your money and we’re going to help you whether you like it or not.

‘We can help you’ says – we’re here. We’re self assured. Our skills more than fit the bill if you need them.

People are stubborn. We always have been. How many “keep of the grass” signs have been disobeyed in the history of time? Forceful telling switches people off, not on. After all, backing someone into a corner only makes them want to escape.

People like choice. People have fought for choice… died for it. So give it to them.

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