The relentless hype we see and read every day is self-inflicted
Something odd happened as the music industry transitioned to today’s digitized tracks. Because of the acoustics of earbuds and the compression of MP3s among other things, music engineers started changing the way final songs were mixed. Now, everything — the instruments, the vocals, the volume — gets cranked up, and there’s less nuance. According to Wikipedia, it’s called a “Loudness war.”
We have a loudness war in marketing and advertising too. It’s not merely coming from the ads. We’re conducting it amongst ourselves, too.
Recently, one marketing consultant breathlessly pronounced that the new Xbox One will “change advertising forever.” Some folks have been proclaiming the Nike “Find Your Greatness” ad (the one with the obese kid running toward the camera) the “best Nike ad ever.” And the recent Mountain Dew goat-in-a-police-lineup spots were declared by some people as the “most racist ads ever.”
So what’s behind all this hype and hyperbole? Is it truly necessary these days? And more importantly, can we stop it from completely, mercilessly, irrevocably destroying our industry forever?
Opinions, praise, and condemnation are all just fine; everyone’s entitled to share them. But it’s getting harder to read high-minded proclamations and not call bullshit on most. Every week I see a multitude of people proclaiming unprecedented greatness or heaping merciless scorn on mundane news items and marketing events. Often, they’re ignorant of history and insulting to the audience.
Anyone who’s studied a bit of early and mid 20th century advertising history knows that mindless puffery and hyperbole is part of the industry’s DNA. “New! Better than ever! Now with 20% more magical ingredients!”
Supposedly, through the years advertising professionals got smarter, the audience got savvier, and the work became more genuine. Fewer and fewer people believe the empty-minded claims brands make when declaring superiority over their competitors. So it’s hard for me to comprehend why we perpetuate so much business-related hype when we talk amongst ourselves. Why do we feel the need to scream so loud all the time?
Perhaps we’re all just in the linkbait business, selling ourselves with the subtlety of a carnival barker. We’re trying to get people hooked on our lives as well as our articles or opinions. And the primary way to do that is to make over-the-top statements. Perhaps we think, if we’re not drawing attention to ourselves, someone else is drawing attention to themselves — and we’re falling behind. It’s personal branding run amok, and I’m not immune to it, either.
But like so many idiosyncrasies of marketing and advertising professionals, we’re simply navel gazing too much. Our short memories, combined with our short attention spans, give us an impatience the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily share. So who doesn’t get it: us or them?
I’d love to think we could turn down the volume of hype in marketing, consulting, and general business advice. We don’t need the excess to be persuasive, effective, or respected. Expertise and knowledge are more valuable when they're not wrapped in the false urgency of “holy crap, this is huge!” statements.
Every new advancement in technology doesn’t portend a complete revolution. Every ad that offends someone isn’t “the worst ever.” We’re moving fast in our business, but we can’t lose perspective while we do it.
Maybe you think this is the worst column you’ve ever seen. Or the best. Either way, just wait a week. With our industry’s penchant for hyperbole, a new high or low is bound to come along.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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