What Is Hype?

With Terry Dean railing against “hypercopyitis” on his blog, I thought it would be a good time to define what “hype” actually is.

Because lately I’ve noticed consumers of information are very “anti-hype.” I believe this has been caused by market fatigue (too many people making similar outlandish promises), but also because people have told them they should be anti-hype.

The problem: Most people don’t understand what hype really is.

First, it helps to know that hype is simply a slang form of the word “hyperbole.”

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines hyperbole this way: “Exaggeration for effect, not to be taken literally. Example: This story is as old as time.”

Hype is then defined as: “Deception; especially, loud, exaggerated promotion or publicity.”

Here’s my definition of hype:

“Promise without Proof”

By my definition, it’s perfectly okay to be enthusiastic in sales copy or any persuasive medium — so long as there is proof to back up the claims. Without proof, claims are just hype.

But with proof, a claim is justified. It becomes a legitimate promise a potential customer can expect to receive should he or she buy the product or service being advertised.

A bold promise with proof to back it up is a stroke of genius. Especially if it’s a promise everybody else is afraid to make.

This should not be classified as hype, but rather as good advertising.

Some of the symptoms Terry describes in his tongue-in-cheek blog post are, I believe, symptoms of greed. And when a person becomes seized by greed, they are more likely to “try too hard” in their copy. This often manifests as hype.

Unfortunately, many people assume that something is hype just because it has an exclamation point behind it, or it is written in a persuasive manner.

But just as a knife on the dinner table doesn’t indicate meat is being served, neither does an exclamation point at the end of a sentence indicate hype is being served.

The key to remember is this: Hype is deception. It is a promise without proof.

As you read and study sales copy, use this definition as your measuring stick — and be careful of labeling as hype all forms of persuasive communication.

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. What are your thoughts? How do YOU define hype?

8 Comments

  • Terry Dean

    July 17, 2008

    Great post Ryan!

    Wow, I used an exclamation point. It must be hype.

    As you correctly interpreted my humorous take on Hypercopyitis, it is all about greed.

  • Ian Brodie

    July 17, 2008

    Hi Ryan,

    I believe that “substantial evidence” may be a more accurate (though less catchy) term than proof.

    In reality, almost no ads contain proof. They contain testimonials, case studies and examples. But these are not proof. Real proof is a scientific experiment or a statistically significant double blinded clinical study. But real proof rarely works in advertising – it’s dry and dull. People are persuaded not by statistics, but by human interest stories.

    Ian

  • Ryan M. Healy

    July 17, 2008

    @Terry – Thank you. :-) And thanks for the inspiration as well.

    @Ian – I agree “substantial evidence” may be more accurate. But to say “real proof” is a scientific experiment or double blind clinical study is a bit much.

    Princeton Wordnet defines proof as: “Any factual evidence that helps to establish the truth of something.”

    So proof doesn’t have to be conclusive.

    Is it a fact? Does it help to establish the truth of something?

    Then it is proof.

    As you point out, though, there are differences in the quality of proof.

  • Carolyn

    July 17, 2008

    Hello Ryan,

    Even though much of what we loosely refer to as hype, isn’t, at least, not in the strictest sense of the word …

    even when there is sufficient proof (if not scientifically-proven) to justify a claim … IMO there can/often is a lot of ‘over the top’ language employed.

    Certainly, in the case of Internet marketers selling to other Internet marketers, the ‘hyper-language’ abounds, doesn’t it??? :)

    Just a tad under these guys are the oodles of DR for B2C — across all industries, from financial publishing to alternative health — laying it on THICK!

    We see the copy thankfully-calmed-down quite a bit in B2B communications.

    So, aside from the greed factor and escaping another slap, with some kind of proof, there’s another factor at play here, methinks.

    Playing to your audience. The use of scarcity and urgency is playing on the fear factor. But, when we know/hope our audience is afraid of being left out, we all know to use it.

    Often, a copywriter’s job is to make something awful, or at least ho-hum, sound fantastic … so people will buy it.

    We’re not war-mongers, we’re word-mongers, aren’t we?

    And sometimes, we actually get a chance to write about a truly beneficial product. So, at those times, we have the opportunity to redeem ourselves and to chip away at the calcified monger-aholic we’ve become.

    I must go, lest I wax too philosophical about this topic! (That’s definitely a hyperbole.) :)

    Ciao,

    Carolyn

  • dcr

    July 17, 2008

    Insightful post. I’d use an exclamation point, but I wouldn’t want my comment to be mistaken as hype.

  • Jeremy Reeves

    July 17, 2008

    Great post Ryan – this is a topic that most people are very confused about.

    I agree that hype is making a bold statement without proof.

    I don’t quite agree with Ian – although I think his statement definitely has merit. However, it would be almost impossible to backup any claim with a double blind study.

    It would take decades to create ANY product!

    When I write copy I try to make a bold statement, followed by proof PLUS specific details.

    Instead of saying “Joe made “X” number of dollars by using my system” and showing a testimonial – I think it’s better to write something like “Joe made “X” number of dollars by doing this, this, and this – which he learned from my system”

    Jeremy Reeves
    http://www.controlbeatingcopy.com

  • Kevin

    April 13, 2009

    Totally agree with you Ryan. Hype to me just screams SCAM.

    Read the “old school” master copywriters such as Claude Hopkins or John Caples. They sold tons of product without any false claims or BS.

    Under promise but over deliver, as Ted Nicholas says.