New! Improved! Bigger! Biggest! Best! Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!Superlatives and dramatic (but ultimately vague, largely unsubstantiated, and often asterisked into oblivion with disclaimers) claims have long been mainstays of traditional marketing. They have no place in marketing anymore…
Not far from my home, there is a restaurant outside of which hangs a massive banner declaring that this place offers “THE BEST LUNCH IN TOWN”. I’ve never eaten there, so for all I know the claim may be true. But I often wonder, best by whose definition? Its customers? Professional reviewers? The owner him or herself? And best by what standard? The finest cuisine, the biggest portions or best prices? The best option for harried lunch hour bite-grabbers or best for leisurely ladies’ luncheons? Is the food simply filling or could the experience actually be more emotionally fulfilling than microwaving canned soup for a quiet Saturday afternoon lunch on the couch with my fiancée and my six year old daughter? I mean, that would be a strong contender for my best lunch.
You see, superlatives might look great in copy decks, but if consumers take them literally they set impossibly high standards that (generally speaking) businesses can’t possibly live up to. There is nothing new about this. Superlatives have only rarely rung true.Remember when Snapple was made from the “best stuff on earth” – at least until complaints from their customers or innovations in their lab (I don’t know which) led them to unearth “better stuff”? Not to argue semantics, but what exactly is better than best?
Or how about this one? Even the most maniacal Mac monkeys chuckled at Apple’s use of over-the-top hyperbole in the iPad launch announcements (magical???), even if they fundamentally believed that the device would be the game changer it might actually turn out to be. Case in point:
[Feed and email readers click through for the embedded video.]
None of this would be much more than philosophical pondering if it weren’t for the fact that dissenting – or at a minimum, less biased – opinions are always a click or finger-swipe away.
This morning, as I rode the commuter train into New York City for a day in the office I passed the neighborhood eatery with the big, bold banner. This time, rather than just wondering what BEST really means, I grabbed my phone and Yelped it. Sure enough, the ratings are fair-to-middling; the reviews themselves are (predictably) mixed; the reviewers not shy about airing their gripes about shoddy service, dated décor or mediocre munchies.
Now that doesn’t sound like the BEST LUNCH at all…
I’ve not yet been so fully absorbed into the great and mighty hive mind that I can’t recognize that Yelp reviews are just as subjective as a restaurant owner’s (or product marketer’s) assertion that their own offering is top notch. The likely truth is that this restaurant is just fine – no better and no worse than dozens of other places like it. So maybe I’ll give it a try sometime (hell, I may even spring for an iPad soon), but in the meantime I wonder if the folks who see the sign and wander in today will spend the rest of the afternoon raving, regretting or retching. Or – most likely – if today’s BEST LUNCH will turn out to be just another lunch on just another day.
The superlative is dead. Long live the superlative.
Is this the best post you’ve read today? Like it, link it, tweet it, share it. ;-) Is it the worst? Well, that’s what comments are for…
But either way, the next time you‘re writing that ad, press release, website copy, banner headline (for banners of the real or digital varieties), or marketing whatever, think about all the ways you can replace the superlative with substance.