Ahhh, the silly season of over-the-top hyperbole is in full flourish now that we are deep into the presidential race. If you want good examples of how tempting and easy it is for pols to exaggerate, obfuscate and dissemble, you need look no further than the Web sites of the various fact-checkers out there, such as PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the ever-fun “Pinocchio Tracker” of WaPo’s The Fact Checker. Lest you be tempted to follow suit because “everybody is doing it these days,” my advice is to go the opposite way and distinguish yourself with credibility built on truth and humility.
Proving you are “the best” is nearly impossible.
Phrases like “the best” or “the leading” only invite incredulity and work to undermine your credibility, making it more difficult to lay claim to honest bragging points. Plus, it’s just lazy advertising. Do good work, and then brag about what you are doing – it’s much more compelling than just calling yourself The Greatest.
Recently, I was asked to review and critique a not-for-profit client’s brand strategy and the language it was proposing to use in its marketing materials. The phrases “the leading” and “the best” were offered as accurate descriptions for use in the organization’s key messaging. I advised against using either, even though it was strongly argued by the marketing manager that the messages were to be used in marketing materials and thus needed to be powerful. Being powerful is one thing – stating the unprovable, as if it were fact, is quite another.
No matter your “evidence” for claiming to be the best, people are still likely to doubt its authenticity.
I told my client that they were not in the business of selling products (e.g., cars – “The ultimate driving machine”) where braggadocio about being the best fits within our existing framework about such claims. The opposite is true for non-profits doing the good work. A non-profit that provides services to others and relies heavily on major donors, foundations, grants and partners, credibility and trustworthiness are key marketing attributes that could be undermined by hubristic hyperbole. Success stories are much more appealing and persuasive than “evidence” that can’t be easily verified.
Boasting is a turn-off for most people and can backfire.
By saying the leading or the best only invites people to take umbrage (in the case of a partner) or dismiss your claim outright (in the case of a potential supporter). Instead of being impressed, people are more likely to think or say, “Yeah, everybody says they’re the best.” Or, “Really? Says who?” Or, “Prove it. What are the metrics you used to determine that?” Talking about proven effectiveness is much less likely to offend or elicit an incredulous response.
Your target audience may not care one whit about your opinion of yourself.
Even politicians get in trouble for claiming they are the best candidate or the only one capable of saving America from all that ails her. Just Google “Gingrich bragging” to see an endless list of dings the candidate has taken for his lack of humility (and the dings his poll numbers may have taken as a result). Only Muhammad Ali could call himself the greatest and get away with it! It’s better to let others tell how great you are in their own words, through testimonials and the like.
In a world busting at the seams with hubris, hyperbole and ridiculous advertising claims, the best way to stand out may be to keep it real and believable and to impress by doing well, rather than bragging well.
Food for thought—
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.” —Muhammad Ali