I want to discuss the most important subject to arise in the history of Western society. Naturally, I know of what I speak. I’m the foremost and most highly trained expert on the issue. I have knowledge and insights unmatched by anyone on the globe. Don’t fail to heed my incredible and once-in-a-lifetime wisdom. The horrors that may befall you will make any previous challenges pale in comparison. Let me assure you, with absolute certainty, that this blog post will change your life.
I am, of course, using hyperbole.
What is hyperbole?
Hyperbole is a rhetorical device fraught with peril. It can destroy credibility. It can decimate the effect of any message you try to convey. You can also get into serious legal trouble. Based on the Latin root hyper, which means “spazzy.”
Hyperbole can happen when a business makes:
- Absurd self-aggrandizement
- Abject falsehoods
Effective content marketing involves some degree of self-promotion. You want to get customers to see your business as superior to others. That means drawing distinctions between what you bring to the table. It means emphasizing the attributes that make your company the right choice
You’re not going to accomplish that by saying:
“Our product is good” or “We’ll serve you adequately.”
You have every right to toot your own horn. That tooting should involve:
- Descriptive language
- Generous use of positive adjectives
- Calls-to-action designed to make people click or call
Don’t overdo it
It can be tempting to go too far. That’s when hyperbole becomes an issue, especially when what you declare is unsupported by evidence. Your product may be incredible, but is it “the best in the world”? Your services may be fantastic, but are they “unmatched”?
Credibility is an important commodity for any business. Anything that dilutes that credibility is a liability. That liability can lose your company business. It can put you in legal peril. Hyperbole is the cornerstone of “puffery.” Merriam Webster defines puffery as:
“Exaggerated commendation, especially for promotional purposes: hype.”
Puffery can lead to claims of false advertising or consumer fraud. That can lead to costly troubles.
How to move forward
Where is the line between effective promotion and hyperbolic puffery? As was once famously said of obscenity, you’ll know it when you see it.
When I was a young lawyer, I knew hyperbole well. Sadly, I was prone to using it. I would allow myself to get baited. Improper conduct by opposing counsel would make me ill (I’m feeling much better now, thank you). I once filed a pleading in federal court that contained the following language:
“Quite simply, the defendant and his counsel are out of control and have with their instant motion transcended all bounds of proper and civilized conduct in this litigation. Their quest to plumb the depths of dilatory, contumacious, contemptuous and outrageous conduct should be of grave concern and serious offense to this Court. …”
Sure, I had compelling arguments to make. But this kind of language didn’t do me any favors. In fact, I’m quite sure it was the worst thing filed in any court. I won’t make that mistake in the future. I hope you won’t either.