"The world’s leading…" exponents of puffery

What attitude should analyst relations managers take towards boosterism, the use of positive hype that is so excessive it produces negative reactions?

Boosterism is a common sign of both weak marketing and self-orientation: promoters unable to identify valuable features and benefits can make generalizations that are hard to fault, but have little real meaning. A classic example is the term “The world’s leading…”, a term which implies something, but says nothing: it doesn’t say largest, most respected, most profitable or anything verifiable.

It’s deeply ironic that the most extreme boosterism — puffery — is popular in the US exactly because it cannot be taken seriously. Firms in the US are free to make vague and hyperbolic statements because they can use the legal defence that no reasonable person would take puffery seriously.

But while corporate communicators love it, technology buyers hate it: Randy Cronk’s Blog has this lovely chart to show that it’s one of the most despised communication techniques.

The supposed usefulness of boosterism is weakened further, of course, with those people who meet marketing puffery frequently, such as industry analysts.

Many analysts learn to discount a series of words: seamless, instant, real-time, leading, unified, comprehensive, unique… you know the list. The overuse of these promotional terms leads to a kind of buzzword bingo, in which analysts are so focussed on being appalled by the boosterism that they get distracted from paying attention to what the vendor wants to communicate.

Overblown language also creates difficulties outside the English language. In Anglo-Saxon marketing, it seems that every firm can claim to be the world’s leading. In many countries buyers expect claims which are more concrete. Only one firm can be the leader, so how do you translate “the leading public relations company” (for example) if there are hundreds. In German, if a firm claims to have the Spitzenstellung, then they are the one with the largest market share. In French, only one firm can be en pôle position.

For these reasons, AR manager need to coach their colleagues away from using that like of language. I know one former analyst who built a macro to strip those words out of vendors’ materials: Perhaps your firm should do the same?

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