How to Use Hype That Works

The Power of Less

Hype has many guises or nuances. Unfortunately, today, hype has become an indiscriminate catch-all-phrase for any type of copy that anyone objects to, for whatever reason.

Well, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too is hype.

And so, for ease of understanding and with a bow to those who either adore or loathe hype–I will divide hype into two broad categories:

Hype that always converts and hype that rarely will.

We’ve all been exposed to copy that exclaims in absolutely superlative fashion the benefits of an advertised product. For example, we’re constantly bombarded by hypey modifiers screaming: best, biggest, fastest, easiest, greatest, amazing, unique, revolutionary… and so forth.

And then there’s the army of entertaining and flamboyant similes and metaphors: “so powerful it’ll suck the chrome off a trailer hitch”, and “faster than a streaker running down-field at the Super Bowl”.

And, finally, the ever obligatory and tired: “your income will skyrocket” or “you’ll feel like a teenager again”.

Of course, these examples stand out as hype–primarily because they’re easily recognized as less than believable, factual or authoritative. And are, therefore, quickly discounted and ignored by most consumers.

But yet, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with employing such words and phrases to extol the virtues of a product… if indeed they’re accurate descriptions.

Where we run into problems though–and where hype gets a black eye, is when hype stands by itself–naked and exposed to ever-vigilant consumer skepticism.

How to turn bad hype into good hype

If you were to write within an ad, either in the headline, body copy or as a subhead, the following:

All your wrinkles will miraculously disappear overnight!

Do you think such a claim will be believed or, more importantly, that the ad containing it will convert?

Personally, I doubt it.

Even if the remainder of the ad were written impeccably–and by impeccably, I mean, you immediately provide undeniable, authoritative proof, confirming that wrinkles will indeed disappear overnight–that claim will still be the rusty nail that blows out the ad’s tires.

Of course it might gain your ad a moment’s fleeting attention–but the ad itself won’t convert, because the remainder of the ad, much less its call to action, probably won’t be read.

But now you protest and say: I provided proof! It’s true, absolutely true–so why wouldn’t it be believed?

Why wouldn’t it convert?

Well, proof and credibility are of course essential to any claim in any ad–without it you clearly have written hype of the bad kind.

But even with proof–if the proof is not “placed” wisely–it’ll be ignored… along with the ad itself.

“The consumer is not an idiot–she’s your wife.” ~ David Ogilvy.

Consumers learn quickly–they have to. By one account, the average American is deluged with over 5,000 advertisements in one form or another every single day.

And, it’s probably fair to say, most of these ads are poorly presented, either in concept, design or execution.

Hence, the unavoidable consequence: skepticism and disbelief abounds in the marketplace.

So… while in the past, making a claim and immediately following it up with proof may have been a wise, prudent and necessary tack to take–times have now changed.

And marketers must adapt.

No longer do you, as a marketer, have the luxury, or more to the point–the time to prove your claim–once you make it. So what’s the answer?

Avoid the ad-killing claim

You avoid the ad-killing claim by making it instead an unavoidable conclusion.

While the following is not an inviolate rule–it’s certainly worth testing…

Before making any concise and memorable claim to unparalleled excellence—prove it first.

Assemble and present your credentialing elements, your evidence–your entire body of incontrovertible proof–in clear and linear fashion.

Allow your proof to lay the groundwork for what is to come. Create strong and overwhelming direction and momentum.

In other words…

Turn hype into an undisputed conclusion

So when you finally do present your hype–your claim to have the biggest, baddest, best product on the planet–it won’t be mistaken for or accused of being hype (of the bad kind)…

…But rather it will be seen as a descriptive and accurate statement of the obvious and the proven (hype of the good kind). If executed skillfully, your hype will also have the added benefit of becoming sustainable and actionable.

And that’s the best hype of all–when your customer agrees with, acts upon, and even advocates on behalf of–what otherwise would have been a wild and unbelievable claim.

About the Author: Barry A. Densa is one of America’s top freelance marketing and sales copywriters. Sign up for his highly regarded FREE ezine: Marketing Wit & Wisdom.

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Reader Comments (37)

  1. says

    So Barry…

    How about turning your wrinkle example into a better one to illustrate your point? I read your article twice and could not find the “right way,” just what “not to do.”

    Also, about your bio. You said, “One of America’s top freelance marketing and sales copywriters…” and “Sign up for his highly regarded …” in your bio. Some might call that hype.

  2. says

    Nice article, Barry!
    I’d also have to say, try to get rid of inferences and assumptions that sound cliche (like “Proven by dentists”, “Every mother will love it”), or present foggy statistics (like “90% of male over 50 say THIS works”).

    Although Michal has a point there, I’d say your article was helpful to me! :)


  3. says

    Great idea… let the reader use your proofs to build his or her own conclusion – the very one you tried to hype. It’s empowering to the reader, and it could be very effective, as long as it doesn’t take too long to read.

  4. says

    In my mind there is no good kind of hype.

    In fact, Merriam Webster (online) defines hype as “to deceive” or “put on” or “to publicize.”

    Hype and publicity – even in the dictionary! – are practically synonymous.

    As copywriters, that puts us in a pickle. How do we attract attention – particularly if we’re writing copy for the wrinkle cream that really *is* a miracle – without writing groan-inducing copy? I can tell you what worked on me in this post: I clicked because the title presented an interesting dichotomy (“hype that works”). I was willing to find out if I had it wrong. I would not have clicked if the title had been “How to Turn Copy into Conversions Every Single Time!”

    So, maybe for the wrinkle cream:
    You’re proud of your wrinkles. But you’re proud of your kids, too – that doesn’t mean you want any more of them.

    Carolyn Erickson

  5. says

    I personally detest all kinds of hype, so I’m biased. I also detest what is called ‘persuasion.’ I think most of us agree that education/editorial does a pretty good job.

    Though I do believe hype does result in better conversions overall. But whether the customers come back to buy more, is quite debatable.

    So yes, hype works, whether we like it or not. Otherwise spam would be dead by now. Who would believe that some dead person gave you $156,945, if only you sent $556 to a bank account in some country.

    Well a lot of people do read those specifics and send their $556. So it works, and works fantastically well.

    Do I have to like it? No I don’t. But it works!

  6. says

    Point well made. You must however lead them to the water and make them drink. In other words I find that people are idiots – even if they are your wife. Not mine of course but all others.
    ‘Our shelves are thicker’ means nothing to the average joe.. you have to say it like this ‘Our shelves are thicker.. so they will never bend.’
    You have to jump to the conclusion for them because people are not so brilliant as you probably are if you’re reading this.

  7. Barry Densaq says

    Way too much confusion and debate—about what should be a very simple and easily grasped concept.

    And it’s all my fault!

    Maybe I should have added a subhead that read: Or, how to take the hype out of hype.

    But that wouldn’t have made it any clearer, would it?

    Sort of like the way Miriam-Webster defines a word by using the word it’s defining.

    So let me put it this way…

    Regardless of how hype is formally defined…

    Hype, for me, is an unsubstantiated superlative claim—either as a word or phrase—used to impress, convince or persuade (which are not in and of themselves pejorative).

    And for the purposes of my article—I try to show why hype decreases conversions.

    So why is hype employed?

    Well, the two most prominent reasons that come to my mind is that it’s either a device used to deceive… or a crutch employed by a lazy and/or inexperienced copywriter.

    Deception is not addressed in my article—because it’s not worth debating. Deception is not acceptable. Period. And no one with any decency should lend a hand in making it either palatable or more effective.

    And by the way, same goes for spam. (Though how spam crept into the discussion is not clear.)

    My article does try to address though, and correct, the latter faux pas—with the stated goal of increasing conversions.

    I probably should have included examples—as Mike and Sean would’ve preferred.

    (But then we might’ve started a whole ‘nother debate over the efficacy of long form copy versus short form copy.)

    Nevertheless, it was all very clear to others.

    And Brian summed it up perfectly: “put proof before the claim.”

    Oh, and as far as that little bit of hype in the “About the Author” section, at the bottom of the article…

    Had I not proved it before the claim…?

    Ah yes, the debate rages on…

  8. says

    “Who would believe that some dead person gave you $156,945, if only you sent $556 to a bank account in some country.

    Well a lot of people do read those specifics and send their $556. So it works, and works fantastically well”.

    Respectfully, this is the way I see it.

    People who still respond to those kinds of letters are greedy!
    The writers of such emails don’t even know a thing about copy writing yet they are able to use words or phrases that trigger people’s emotions.

    Also I thought marketing is about using “PROVEN” SYSTEMS? If hype is working big time for you, use it by all means.

    Personally ever since I bought clayton makepeace ultimate package (thanks brian), my “hype -detector” quickly comes up each time I read any of these sales letters.

    Once I see a sales letter that is full of hype, most times I respond with “tell me what I don’t know” but if you educate me with valuable materials, then you got me hooked!

    And that is just me.

  9. says

    Justification and value prior to the claim… and you won’t have to make the claim as customers will make it for themselves. Build the understanding of value and allow the audience to run wild with it.

    Makes sense. Thanks Barry.

  10. says

    We still have a problem to overcome. If you can’t lead with “hype”, you still need a headline that entices the reader to peruse your “proof before the hype”.

    If someone lands on your page and sees nothing but the start of some text, chances are s/he’ll never read it.

    So, if you can’t lead with a claim, what do you use?

    @Steve Nickse Good save on the “not my wife” bit. You won’t have to keep company with the dog tonight.

  11. says

    We all have built-in bs detectors, some have better models than others..more finely tuned due to failures of the past. Back up every claim with a ‘money back’ guarantee. Remove the risk to the buyer and you are Golden. I think.

  12. Barry Densa says

    @ al Kalar…

    “So, if you can’t lead with a claim, what do you use?”

    Headline from Gary Bencivenga:

    “What’s Wrong with Growing Rich Slowly?”

    Headline from Arthur Johnson:

    “Lies, Lies, Lies”

    Not every headline has to make a claim or imply a benefit to entice the reader… to continue reading.

    Oh yeah, and the immortal:

    “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?”

  13. says

    Sorry, Barry. I didn’t mean to debate your point. Just picking at nits – “an unsubstantiated superlative claim” is a great way to define hype. Your point is that success can be achieved by subantiating your claim before you make it. (I think? I hope?)

    But if it’s substantiated, it isn’t hype. So there’s no good hype, or bad hype – there’s just hype or no hype. :)

    And when I pointed out that even Merriam Webster links hype to deception, I should have finished the thought: The perception has permeated our culture that hype = deception. Even if the wrinkle cream really works — a certain portion of the population isn’t going to have immediate distrust if we use the word “miracle.”

    And the other folks will all run out and buy it! :)

  14. says

    @al Kalar
    Cats. I sleep with cats when I’m in the doghouse. Actually, I’m wearing out the couch. When I see someone advertising ‘Totally Indestructible Couches’ I’ll be tempted by the hype. So I guess we fall for it when we are in the market for the product that is being hyped. Being in the market for a product may mean we willingly have our ‘hype blinders ‘ on at that time. Defenses are down, over-rided by our desire for a workable solution.

  15. says

    I like the concept, but what’s your first line? A bit of proof doesn’t seem like it would compel me to read the second line, much less the call to action. What would you suggest as an attention-grabbing opener instead of a hyped claim?

  16. says

    I think empowering your headline with proof is an excellent method. Besides, if we spend the time to make sure we have proved something then our entire copy (including the headline) will sure flow much easier.

  17. says

    Awesome information.

    I’m a skimmer (read only bullet points, etc.) so it took me one and half times to get the point, but when I did, it was well worth it.

    Our company works in computer security where everything seems to be hype. We’ll definitely work toward building credibility first, then present the “hype”.

    Thank you.

  18. says

    In Seth Godin’s book All Marketers Are Liars he says that successful marketing tells a story. Not a lie, but a story that resonates with the target market and is also true.

    Big time classic example: Starbucks. The marketing tells a story that the consumer loves. All of it’s true, kind of, and it hits open a feeling the consumer craves.

    Do you think that writing sticky copy also requires telling a compelling story to the reader?

  19. says

    I like the way Brian put it in:
    # Discover the Secret Mind Control Method That Hypnotically Persuades Prospects to Buy… Guaranteed!

    1. You must always write for the audience you have, so be careful who you emulate.

    2. You don’t have to spew huge amounts of hype, but you must always be interesting.

    Those who are writing the big hype are selling to the audience that buy it.

    The honest way of selling your product is good headline, the proof that brings the reader to his own conclusion, then directing that conclusion to the decision you want them to make.

    Figuring out good head lines is not hard the top bloggers do it all of the time. Barry did a great job with the title of this article. It made you look.

    Barry, the article was straight forward to me.

  20. says

    Without either a guarantee or proof, it is out of desperation that people buy-in to gimmicky advertisements. If one was thinking logically, why would a a company sell wrinkle creams and diet pills that truly deliver the results claimed for 20 bucks? Haven’t people been looking for centuries for a fountain of youth and that “magic” diet pill? 20 bucks?

  21. says

    Thank you for writing some sense amidst all the hype. We are all consumers and none of us like getting hype yet we let ourselves be fooled into writing it time and again. I’ve personally begun following those I consider the “quiet professionals” online, those who do offer proof and reason and credentials before claims. Thanks for putting this in black and white and may we all learn to follow the principles outlined here better and be less tempted to write bad hype!

  22. says

    “Before making any concise and memorable claim to unparalleled excellence—prove it first.”

    This is well put. It is much harder to “unconvince” the customer that your service or product is the best for what it is intended to do if it was the customer who first convinced themselves of it’s value (instead of being “sold”).

  23. Connie Brooks says


    What an article. I was having some trouble with my resume, and after reading this article I know what I am doing wrong.

    It really helped me to remember that how I see myself is just as important as how I sell any product.


  24. says

    You know, I feel the most difficult position “hype” sometimes places people in… is trying to determine the validity factor of it. With so much ‘hype’ in both the professional type businesses and the greed-focused niches, people are subject to either taking action or not, in order to conclude the genuineness of the hype in question.

  25. says

    I think it was Vic Schwab who wrote that the greatest factor in copywriting was romance. It’s interesting that there is no lack of HYPE in romantic language.

    Listen how lovers talk to each other. ‘forever, cannot live without you, you are my sunshine, … worship the ground you walk on ..”

    Can’t I be so in love with my product that I speak in those terms? Can’t this language express enthusiasm for my product. Does every statement needs a proof? Life would be very boring if this was true.

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