Get The Hype Out of the Headlines

by , Nov 14, 2002, 12:00 AM
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First we find out that more U.S. homes have outhouses than TiVos (671,000 outhouses vs somewhere between 504,000 and 514,000 TiVos; Don’t ask me why outhouses are easier to count than TiVo owners.)

Now comes the revelation that more women would choose a high-definition television over a one-carat diamond ring or a digital camera over half-carat diamond stud earrings.

It was William Shakespeare who wrote, "Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war!" But I can see now that some overly stimulated PR guy has proclaimed “Create havoc, let’s play loose with these dog-brained stats!!!”

You would think that if this industry learned anything in the past five years it was to stay away from hyperbole. It was what got us in trouble with VCs, shareholders, regulators, marketers, the media, and finally, the public. The last thing we wanted was for people to know the truth. To that end, we invented new words (or new meanings for old words) not just to make ourselves sound like “insiders” but to make sure no one knew what the hell we were talking about (except, of course, other “insiders.")

Can you believe we sat with a straight face and said stuff like “sticky” or “granular” or “traction” or “backward combatability” or the granddaddy of them all “disintermediation?”

As AP reporter Larry Blasko wrote: “The purpose of technology is not the practical application of knowledge, but the creation of jargon so that all the kids who got picked last in third-grade kickball can savor vengeance.”

But hyperbole gets the headlines. Not very sexy to say “More People Own Honda’s than TiVos” or “If They Already HAVE a Diamond Ring, Women…etc.”

If you get into the fine print of some of these claims you find samples bases of 12 or qualifiers such as “questions asked only the on the campus of the State Institution for the Urgently Need to be Heard.”

I like a headline as much as the next guy, but we have a PR guy with 30 years of experience who won’t let us even exaggerate much less blow smoke. He says credibility is our most important asset.

You know what, I think he’s right.

- Adam Guild is President of Interep Interactive.

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