Lies in copywriting: Hyperbole vs Realism

Is your copy full of pork pies lies?.

If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked a million times… how much should you inflate claims to draw people to your marketing?

Okay. Maybe not a million times. More like 10 or 11. Okay. Twice. I’ve been asked twice.

So how much should you inflate your marketing? Will exaggeration and hyperbole get the right kind of attention?

Let’s recap on what we’re talking about here.

Exaggeration and hyperbole

Exaggeration is a statement that represents something as better or worse than it really is.

Hyperbole is exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

I have a million things on my to-do list today.
I nearly died of shame.
I was on hold foreverrrrrrr.

It’s not a simile or metaphor, though. A comparison is happening but it’s completely overstated the matter for humorous effect.

Hyperbole in (clickbait) headlines

Who doesn’t want to write the headline that goes viral? But the overuse of hyperbole in headlines is becoming tiresome. We’ve all seen them -– the clickbait headlines. Sites like BuzzFeed, ViralNova and Upworthy and even Huffington Post use them to drive traffic.

Transferring them to a business context you see formulas like:

“This simple copywriting technique will blow your mind
“The new social media platform everyone is talking about
“Are you making the one mistake that destroys your business reputation?”
“I tried this new headline formula and you wouldn’t believe what happened next
“Copywriters hate this new writing trick

Click-bait headlines are kinda fun to read but leave you feeling a bit grubby afterwards. I have to admit, I feel a bit dirty just writing those. 

As copywriters, we aim to write clever headlines that get readers’ attention. Using power words to tap into emotional motivation is part of strong copywriting. Using hyperbole (over-exaggeration) tricks readers into satisfying their curiosity. If the article doesn’t live up to its promise, readers are left feeling cheated. When it happens time and time again, the brand is tainted.

Tips for writing great headlines without resorting to hyperbole

1. Focus on benefits that align with the readers’ interest
2. Use numbers and percentages
3. Incorporate keywords people are using
4. Use subheadings to back up your big headline promise

Hyperbole in marketing

We’ve talked about hyperbole in click-bait headlines… let’s dig into exaggeration and hype in marketing. Because there is plenty of it and it’s not always so obvious.

Hype is marketing something with exaggerated enthusiasm and is often linked with the deception of publicity that is inflated or downright false.

Dramatic claims can be eye-catching, but you can get into trouble fast when they are out-and-out lies.

If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

Phrases like “fastest”, “best” – in fact, most words ending in “-est” – “only” and “leading” sound nice, but they have to be backed up before they will be believed. Even phrases like “revolutionary” will raise an eyebrow unless there is some truth to make it credible.

Australia’s best
The world’s leading
Try this revolutionary new approach to…
The only way to truly know if…

Tips on avoiding hyped-up marketing

Usually, definitive statements are good for credibility but exaggerated statements about performance will send your credibility into the can.

1. As you write such statements, ask yourself – could this be proven in court?
2. Dig into the uniqueness that does exist. And it’s there if you dig deep enough.

Realism and authenticity

Realism is the exact opposite of the hyperbole and exaggeration I’ve highlighted so far. It’s the tendency to view or represent things as they really are. But let’s be real (ha!) – being completely realistic isn’t always going to sell too well. Being real will.

In the new world of digital marketing, authenticity sells. Think Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, subverting the traditional advertising message of perfection. Small businesses are trumping big business (and their big budgets) with authenticity and transparency: This is who we are. We are real.

AVIS ads

Before the internet, Avis nailed it in the ’60s with their classic, “We’re only #2 so we try harder” campaign. As a challenger brand, they constantly try harder for every customer and can’t afford to offer anything less than great customer service.

It’s brilliant. It’s real.

Tips on authentic marketing

1. Be open and transparent about how you do business. A spade can be a spade.
2. Use a conversational tone of voice. Let your marketing sound like something real people would say.
3. Offer concrete information rather than jargon and fluff.
4. Connect with people (see #1), honestly.

So there you have it. Are you over the clickbait headlines or do they still hook you in? Have you come across blatantly hyped up marketing that left you feeling cold? Share it in the comments!


7 Responses

  1. Belinda: Thanks for keeping it real! I am pretty fed up with the hyperbole copywriting I have seen lately. What do you think about adding the word “killing” to a headline? For example: Create a “killing” headline… 😉

    1. Hey Martin, good question.

      “Killing” is a good power word but (like all power words) it loses its power when used quite randomly.

      So, using your example, the idea of a “killing headline” is quite abstract and doesn’t have much meaning. A more effective use might be,

      Is lazy headline writing killing your blog traffic/landing page/conversion rate/whatever big thing your audience really wants?

      Using power words in the right context gives them more meaning and therefore, more power.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Excellent post. I had to get in my way-back machine for a minute, but I remember those AVIS ads.

    They were so good, they even got through to a kid!

    Thanks for your time writing this one. Thorough and great info.

  3. Clickbait headlines make me feel annoyed especially if it’s about the latest beauty fad or the Kardashians! I can definitely sense the fakeness from a mile away but they do work (well on my husband anyway!). I think genuine trumps clickbait any day. Great post!

    1. I get annoyed when I get sucked in. It makes me realise how powerful they are and if they just linked to decent content, those headlines would have us all hooked in!

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