The Anatomy of Hype
by Marcia Yudkin
on this site: August 21st, 2004
On a copywriting board I frequent, someone expressed bafflement that several respected
marketers criticized the tone of a sales page he wrote. "Why did they apologize
to their subscribers while linking to my pitch? This approach sells," he
Hype was the problem. If you use the following tactics, many educated
shoppers cringe and go elsewhere:
- Overblown claims. "If
You Can Write Your Name, You Can Write a Book in 30 Days - Guaranteed!"
tone. Lots of exclamation points, phrases in bold capital letters with underlining
and a drumbeat of emphasis. "Programmers poured out their TOP-SECRET
strategies that you, too, can use to earn a GATES-LIKE FORTUNE in the software
business!!" "Take out your credit card and order RIGHT NOW!"
and extreme superlatives. "The most important new product launch, ever."
- Adjectives and adverbs you would not encounter from Exxon
or IBM. "Mind-blowing" "Exclusive" "Huge" "Incredible"
Wildly" "Literally" (necessary to distinguish truth from hoopla).
- Exaggerations. "They've made millions under the radar."
(When most haven't made that sum and the "secrecy" is just not having
- Sounds impressive but untrue. Calling someone
a best selling author who has not appeared on a recognized best seller list.
of qualifiers. Statements that should include a bit of backpedaling but don't.
It's really not "all," "only," "never," "sure-fire"
Marketers who favor a style full of hype argue
that the numbers prove these techniques succeed, whatever the audience. When they
tone down the pitch, sales drop. When they toss decorum to the winds and reinsert
that hammering excitement and the fervid embellishments, sales return to previous
levels. Case closed, they say.
Assuming their numbers are valid, this argument
does have a point, but one of limited relevance to many situations. Hype may sell,
but it may also undercut other business goals, in these ways:
In whose eyes do you want credibility? Use this tone and you can expect snickering
rather than respect from established journalists, academics, Fortune 500 companies,
most people with postgraduate degrees and colleagues who use any of those groups
as their benchmark of respectability.
- Partnerships and opportunities.
If you're aiming at joint ventures with banks, universities, community organizations,
trade associations and the like, hype counts very heavily against you. You may
also endanger your chances of getting a contract from a major publisher if that's
among your goals.
- Trust. Are you aiming at a one-time
sale or a long-term customer? Hype works better in the former situation, especially
where a buyer believes they can obtain a refund if the purchase doesn't live up
to the promises.
- Staying out of legal trouble. Some of
the techniques listed above either flirt with deception or cross the line to lies.
The other day I read through a Federal Trade Commission judgment against an Internet
marketer for deceptive marketing and believe me, this is wrath you do not want
to bring down upon yourself! Make sure you have a nitpicky lawyer to vet your
copy if you favor a hyped style.
Please note that it's possible to
use a hard-hitting, dramatic direct marketing style with descriptive bullet points,
calls to action and so on in connection with entirely truthful and completely
Hype does sell. But that's far from settling the issue
of whether or not you should use it.
Marcia Yudkin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper, Web Site Marketing
Makeover and other books on business communication. She trains people with good
writing skills to earn a significant income as copywriters/marketing consultants
and performs web site makeovers for companies that want to sell without hype (http://www.yudkin.com/sitereview.htm).