The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

Pointless exaggerations

An exaggeration for the purpose of making a sale is called puffery. Back in the days prior to faith-based market regulations, the Federal Trade Commission might have had the budget to do something about it.  Now, it seems, it is just an annoying fact of life.

I recently encountered the statement “Those who buy products marketed through email spend 138% more than non-readers of email.”

At first I was transfixed by wondering if the statement referred to some base sales number plus an additional 138% (“spend 138% more“), which seemed improbable.  If that were the case, saying that sales more than doubled would suffice, and it would result in less head-scratching.

Then I went bug-eyed when I noticed that the whole idea was based upon a comparison to the buying habits of “non-readers of emails.”

Non-readers of emails?  Who the heck are non-readers of emails?  I can only assume that the base line was not drawn from the buying habits of dead people.  Every 7th grader ought to know that 138% of nothing is still nothing.

It seems to me that when the actual facts are more than good enough, the uncontrolled urge to hype and over-sell anyway must result from some fundamental fear.  It is a fear of not making a sale linked to a fear that what you’re selling isn’t worth the price.

When we add in the fear of being held accountable for the words we utter and the claims we make, it adds a big dose of fudge, obfuscation, and fog to marketing communications.

Thus, we end up with statements such as, “Those who buy products marketed through email spend 138% more than non-readers of email.”

It gives the superficial impression of saying something powerful, but it doesn’t actually say anything at all.


Written by Tom Fox

09/23/2007 at 10:19 am

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