Persuasive Online Hype in Action

As sound-bites and sight-bites rain down like those proverbial cats and dogs (maybe worse!), folks are becoming hypersensitive to hype. Collectively, we are just not buying it.1 Yep, our bullshit meters are meticulously calibrated to ring when messaging sounds over-the-top, and we stand only too ready to believe that if it sounds (or looks) too good to be true, it probably is.

Hype lives in your copy, in words that beg comparison but never get substantiated: better, best, more, most, must-have, no comparison, greatest quantity, greatest variety. It lives in numbers that never get explained.

Hype is your enemy, and hype-y copy is like "friendly fire." Shooting yourself in the foot? Heck, it's more like committing seppuku!

Come see what I mean.

In search of better TV?

I really don't know much about high definition television (HDTV), but my buddy Bryan has been raving about his new HD purchase. So HD has been in the back of my mind. When I saw a flash ad for Dish Network HD programming on lifehacker, I took notice:

The flash part of the ad went something like this:

If you don't have high definition programming, your HD TV is faking it ... get the full HD experience with America's largest lineup.

Note the words: full experience, largest lineup, twice as many, better TV. Yeah, I want the most bang for my buck. And this copy prepared me for some serious substantiation. So I clicked through and landed here (eventually ... had to suffer through more flash first):

Okay. It's Dish's HDTV page. I saw the area that claimed "DishHD offers the most HD content available today." 1700 hours of programming per week? Sounded impressive, but what did it mean?

I counted ten channels, none of them local networks. Ten? I seemed to remember my cable company sent out a paper ad on their lineup a coupla weeks ago. I checked their website:

Hmmm. No mention of how many hours of HDTV programming per week, but Comcast lists sixteen channels, including my local ones for news and network shows. Comcast's site is maddeningly flash-intensive and copy-poor, but it had me believing already that Dish was playing the hype game with me.

I returned to the Dish site to follow the lineup/programming path from the banner ad. Dish tells me there are three must-have HD essentials. One of them is HD programming. Nothing on the essentials list is clickable, so I clicked on "Learn More":

Great (not)! I landed on an utterly useless page that only reiterated what I already knew. I did get a little animated butterfly, except I wasn't in the mood for cute. Dish had just committed the faux pas of wasting my time. The copy?

High Def. HD. High Definition. HDTV. There are many ways to say it, but it means just one thing - high definition TV is better TV. To get the full impact of HD and see it the way it's meant to be seen, you need the following 3 'must-haves.'

Hot air (a logician would call this a tautology). This circular copy tells me nothing. Worse, there are no "following" anythings except empty black space ... the links are above. Little things like this really bug me.

Any sane person would be long gone by now. The path was not delivering. But you know me. For the sake of a good story, I sighed heavily and clicked on "DishHD Programming." I was hungering for some honest-to-goodness meat:

Huh? That freaking animated butterfly again and more useless copy:

DishHD Programming. Add entertainment made just for the HD experience. DishHD has the greatest quantity and variety of HD content, and offers the industry's most extensive HD line-up with over 1,700 hours of HD entertainment each week.

"Add entertainment"? What would I add it to? "Greatest quantity and variety"? C'mon dudes, cough up! This is my third click, and I'm still no wiser. Oh, and there's that number again. 1700. Totally suspicious, I reached for my calculator. Let's see ... 10 channels, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's 1680 hours. Which is not "over 1700."

I keyed in Comcast's numbers for comparison. 2688 hours. By now I was thinking total hype. Sixteen channels are more than ten. 2688 hours are a lot more than 1680.

I really didn't want to click anything but the outta-here button. (Tell me, Dish, what are your page rejection rates on this scenario?) But I resolved to "learn more:"

Mercifully, the butterfly was gone. But this was the end of the line, and all I had got for my dedicated efforts were the questionable claims and the image of the ten channels I had seen on the landing page.

The bottom line

This scenario does not:

  • Deliver on the promise of Dish's banner ad

  • Deliver relevance

  • Provide evidence that supports Dish's claims

  • Offer the customer anything beyond shallow entertainment and hype

  • Establish and develop credibility

Even if Dish's claims are correct, they still utterly failed in their persuasive mission. My head is filled with images of that classic sleazy car salesman, and I don't believe Dish for one second. In fact, I feel major cheated and manipulated. Dish isn't getting a single penny from my budget. Not today. Not ever.

See what I mean? Hype is your number one enemy. The only thing hype persuades folks to do is walk (or mouse) away. So terminate hype with extreme prejudice. You don't need to rely on superlatives if you indisputably can deliver the goods. What you need to focus on is providing the information your customers really want to learn from you.

1 "The Ad-Busting Brain." David Cohn. seedmagazine.com. March 22, 2006. http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/03/the_adbusting_brain.php.

Volume 127: 4/1/06


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