When Words Collide

by Jenny Madison | June 22, 2016

Accident WordAs a copywriter here at cj Advertising, I know firsthand that words have power. And I can tell you that we carefully choose the right words to market our clients’ brands. That’s why there’s been a lot of discussion lately in the Creative Services department about a new campaign to ban the phrase “car accident” and replace it with the words “car crash.”  Yes, you read that right. There’s a full-on campaign, complete with a hashtag (#crashnotaccident) and a pledge form with the goal of 20,000 signatures.  Advocates of banning the word “accident” believe it absolves unsafe drivers of responsibility.

We respect the sentiment attached to this campaign, and several of our clients have expressed interest in aligning with this semantical movement, which is not surprising.  Lawyers are ahead of the curve where careful word choice is concerned, as they use language in their trial arguments that have the most reptilian impact in their favor. They know too well that many events are simply NOT accidents, and the suggestion of such could be hurtful to their cases.

While we can certainly see how the word might sugar coat tragedy in the minds of a jury, we also recognize several reasons why completely banning the word isn’t the best strategy if you’re a lawyer who advertises.

Here they are:

  • What’s applicable at trial is not always applicable in advertising. In trial, your message is “what happened to them could happen to you.” In your advertising, the message is “what happened to you could get worse.” Your audience and your missions aren’t the same, so your language can’t be.
  • What about your clients who weren’t harmed by deliberate actions? Or what about cases such as truck accidents where the cause of the crash isn’t apparent to the victims? Sure, there was negligence, but the victims still regard them as accidents.
  • The connotations associated with accident may not be perfect, but those associated with the less common “crash” and “wreck” aren’t either. For some people, “crash” implies a single-car event. For others, “wreck” connotes a totaled vehicle.
  • Our language has shifted in meaning, spelling, and pronunciation throughout history. “Car accident” has been so widely used that the phrase is not limited to the same literal meaning that it did long ago. The proof is that your firm has thrived with usage of the word, and the search analytics provided below show people still say it. In markets where “wreck” is more colloquial, we usually mix it up with “accident” to cover our bases.
  • Search trends on the web make banning “accident” a complete nonstarter. “Car Accident” is by far the most searched variation of the concept. Your site MUST contain the word “accident” so prospective clients can find you. And since your advertising platforms have to support each other, if you use it in one, you have to use it in the others.

Accident Usageaccident 2 Usage


It’s hard to argue with the data. Regardless of whether a collision was caused by extreme negligence or a simple driving error, it was still unintentional and thus “a car accident” in the minds of those involved. And here in Creative Services, we make it our business to speak a language your market understands.