For more than a decade, I've had a listening post up on this topic, observing wailing and head-scratching on both sides. On the one hand, many marketers model and advise weird, emotion-soaked headlines, fast-talking superlatives, hard-to-believe claims and a tone of carnival-barker excitement. Anything goes, as long as it converts. Indeed, for this crowd, response data rules, and they're genuinely bewildered why anyone would take issue with what works.
On the other side are organizations who refuse to post content with that tone, experts who deploy hype but confess their embarrassment with it and clients who email me, "Please, can you write something I won't be ashamed to use?"
To be clear, we're talking about headlines like these (with text that continues in that tone):
Who Else Wants a Tsunami of Traffic?
Killer Blogging Tips From the Genius Who Slays Doubters for Breakfast
Annihilate the Competition With These Seven Game-Changing Social Media Moves
Four types of people tend to recoil from that approach.
1. Ex-academics and highly educated folks who subscribe to The New Yorker and listen to public radio. These sophisticates feel the hyped style of marketing is low class and not worthy of them. In their minds, using it would be like shaking hands with a reporter from the National Enquirer. Also included here are many Europeans brought up to admire restraint who find this style overwrought and overly American.
2. Introverts. Self-reliant men and women who hang back from showing off in front of others and who don't strive to outdo the Joneses dislike hot air and hoopla in behavior and in prose. No matter how much you tell them it works, they can't bring themselves to embrace hype.
3. Socially conscious and heart-centered entrepreneurs. Touchy-feel types who wear environmentalism, compassion, political activism or spirituality on their sleeves shudder at the aggressiveness of hype and prefer a softer, gentler approach. Writing in a voice that fits their values matters greatly to this group.
4. Organizations with a sedate image to maintain. Direct-response writers moan about these kinds of clients, who may refuse even to test copy that seems undignified or smarmy. Organizations whose credibility lies in a somewhat conservative persona may be right to put their image first. According to James Hale Sr., a marketing director at the Mayo Clinic, his hospital experimented with "sensational, shout-out copy" but found it lowered response, because it clashed with what the public expected from an A-list medical institution.
Are any of the above categories of people your target market? If so, you may find more success in the lower-key approach the Mayo Clinic kept to after its experimentation. If not, then you may be better off studying the masters of hype and adopting their techniques.
Don't be a mindless copycat. Don't be intimidated by successful people who insist you can find your audience and cash in only by following their lead. Find the tone you can live with and that makes the cash register ring because your customers enjoy it.