Avoid Hot Air in Your Marketing Copy

July 31, 2018

One of the most common mistakes businesses and non-profits make is to puff up their claims about products, services, or public events by using 'hot air' adjectives.

The event was a resounding success!

The results were fantastic and phenomenal!

An exclamation mark at the end of such statements doesn’t make the claim(s) more persuasive.

Worse, the sentences that these adjectives appear in often seem to have been thrown together with little thought. The reader can tell.


hot air balloon

Hot air annoys readers.

Jakob Nielsen’s groundbreaking research into how users read on the web included this insight:

Users detested 'marketese'; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.

When it comes to tag lines there are some big brands whose track records enable them to use superlatives effectively; "BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine" comes to mind. But they’re in the minority.


Check out Josh Bernoff’s post on How to Fight Vacuous Superlatives.

Josh, co-author of Groundswell, runs a regular feature on his Without Bullshit site called “Ask Dr. Wobs.”

Dear Dr. Wobs:

My boss wants to promote in a news release that one of our products is the fastest-growing product in its category in our industry. I really think it’s empty corporate speak that adds nothing but a boost to our ego. What’s a better way of communicating that message as I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince him to drop it altogether?

— Fighting the Fight Against Corporate Speak

Dear Fighting:

You’re not alone. Lots of people are doing battle with bosses with stupid ideas. I’ll start with the logical arguments about why you’re right, and them move on the practical question of what to do when your boss is wrong.

Read the rest of Josh’s article.

As Josh’s post suggests, “meaningless superlatives” are often based on or accompanied by meaningless metrics (vanity metrics).

Bookmark Josh's site for valuable, no b.s. tips on clear communication.

Photo by unsplash-logoCiel Cheng