The World’s Most Secret Advertising Secret in the World

What is it about us humans?  We are smart, big-brained animals.  We are (almost) on top of the food chain, and advanced enough to build skyscrapers and rocket ships.  But when it comes to advertising, we continue to fall for the stupidest stuff in the universe.

  • 17 Secrets of Hollywood Diet Gurus
  • 9 Secret Ways to Make Money Online Today
  • Local Mom Discovers $10 Secret to Whiter Teeth**

….Or my new favorite, the title of a new book by Tim Ferris (voted the best self-promoter in Silicon Valley):

  • “The 4-hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman” (link to book)

Where I’m from, we used to call this hyperbole, and we’d take it with more than a grain of salt.  These days, this kind of hyperbole is the new standard for advertising — particularly online.  Anyone with anything to sell promotes it as a “secret” and then amplifies the message with equal parts money and sex.

There’s two ways to look at this.  (1) Who would believe this crap; … or (2) Who wouldn’t?

Yes, we ALL want to be thin, rich, sexy… superhuman.  The strength of this kind of marketing is that it makes you feel inadequate – or more specifically, it makes you feel “fat, sex-inept, and sub-human”.   It takes some kind of super-human willpower NOT to click on ads that promise to reveal secrets of wealth, health and happiness.

The sad fact is, the word “secret” grabs us by the eyeballs and drags us in, whether its used to advertise a product or even the news.

Even though we are surrounded by information — able to learn almost anything with a simple Google search — we are eager to believe that there are secrets left that will make us happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.

It’s easy to smear this kind of hyperbole all over your advertising.  But I don’t advocate using this kind of promotion. Done poorly (or too often) it has the potential to backfire horribly.  Customers get sucked in, only to learn the truth about your product, and leave feeling completely duped.

Case in Point:  I did a little research.  I decided to find out about the $10 Secret to Whiter Teeth.  Turns out those “secrets” are two well marketed and very expensive products.  Just a few clicks behind the ad, and the $10 secret turns out to cost $99.00… PER MONTH.  (A quick Google search and I found the “real” secrets to whiter teeth — less Gatorade, more brushing, and 50 cents worth of baking soda.)

I now have a strongly negative view of the companies sponsoring the teeth whitening “secrets” campaign.  Their ad dollars were not only wasted on me, but resulted in me telling hundreds of other people how stupid their company is.  Bad marketing: bad investment.

So next time you go to write a headline like “10 Secrets to Getting Rich, Driving Faster, Living Longer and Having a Flatter Tummy” … stop and think.  Is this really a claim you can back up?  Is this really the impression you want to give your customers?  If a reader falls for the headline, can you make them feel good about your offer or will they simply be disappointed?

People are vulnerable.  We are curious.  We want to be rich, sexy and powerful…  But we’re not stupid.

Dedicated to your (marketing) success,



P.S.  Thanks to my two muses this week — reader Beth K. for asking about this trend,  and Nationwide Insurance who launched the ironic ad campaign, “The World’s Best Spokesperson In the World”.



Originally Published

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