Superlatives live dangerous lives

superlativesIn writing for marketing and sales, advice from Spanish writer and philosopher Baltasar Gracián holds up after 400 years: “Never exaggerate.” On the subject of superlatives, Gracián said they “offend the truth and cast doubt on your judgment. By exaggerating, you squander your praise and reveal a lack of knowledge and taste.”

Rather than try to convince others by telling them how great you are, show them. Use specific examples, testimonials from independent third parties (this is why it’s called earned—or free—media), and metrics instead of adjectives. Consider David Ogilvy’s famous advertisement for Rolls Royce whose headline reads, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” Ogilvy found the twenty-year old quotation in an English automobile magazine. But it drives the point home. One engineer is then supposed to have said, "we've got to do something about that dammed clock!"

Rather than revert to the cliché, provide a story or even a sentence that brings your point to life. We could say, “That was the loudest noise I ever heard.” Heard that before. Or, an alternative, “The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G.K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.” P.G. Wodehouse places you into the situation, without one superlative. He’s the best!

Baltasar Gracián (1601–1658) wrote, among others, The Art of Wordly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle, a collection of 300 maxims on various topics giving advice and guidance on how to live fully, advance socially, and be a better person. Read online at the Internet Archive.

Posted by Frank J. Mendelson | Business, Business Communications, Communications | Comments 0 |
Connect with us on LinkedIn Follow us on Twitter Add us on Facebook Subscribe to our RSS feed

Subscribe to email updates