Have you noticed lately that the superlative is back in fashion? And back in the most incredulous, unbelievable and unique way. Well actually not. It is just that it seems that it is used more and more to embellish the ordinary to try to get consumers to feel like they are getting something completely new and more different than ever before.
The one that really started me looking at this phenomenon, was a local press ad in Singapore for a new residential tower, one of the many shooting up around town. But this claim was extraordinary. “It’s brilliance of design will surpass iconic buildings like the Burj Khalifa and the London Shard”. Tall claims from a building significantly smaller than the Shard and dwarfed by the Burj—and which, judging by the “architectures rendered image” might not be recalled for its brilliant design.
So why do it? Is it to stand out from the crowd? Placate the developer’s ego? I am not really sure, but as potential buyers, it certainly doesn’t help us sort out the grass from the chaff. And I need to say this is not something exclusive to Singaporean real estate advertising, it seems to be endemic across the region. From “live like never before” to the most “palatial interiors and understated design”, every white concrete box is trying to stand out through words rather than uniqueness.
Enough of this, as it sounds like I have a thing for apartment advertising when in actual fact I am not even in the market!
What I am in the market for is a new TV, so naturally the one with the best use of superlative nonsense has got to be my first choice: Sharp: Beyond UHD Experience.
Well I know what HD is and I expect that UHD is Ultra HD, but “Beyond UHD”?Would that just be Ultra Really Ultra HD TV? This part of the copy particular tickled my fancy as well: “details that enhance your viewing pleasure even greater with details that rival Ultra-HD TV” coupled with “Now you can experience viewing quality beyond definition”. A superlative and pun all in one! That in itself made me order one online immediately.
Too much, you may say, of my whimsical diatribe—and before I even start talking about Incredible India, the Fabulous Philippines or Amazing Thailand.
Call me old-fashioned but isn’t advertising about creating clarity? Motivating consumers through unique benefits or product innovations that get my attention, drive a need, and offer a unique solution that is different from my current? In the esteemed mandatory text for all under graduate marketers, Kotler broke it down to five easy steps: Need, Search, Evaluation, Purchase, Post Purchase (normally with dissonance as a given). So I see how both the residential press ads and the Sharp spot are relevant if I am looking for a new home or TV, but neither really helps my evaluation process as they really don’t offer me anything unique.
The other unfortunate outcome of this kind of advertising, is that when you have something that really is superior, selling it with superlatives diminishes it. From my experience, India is incredible—but the repetition of superlative claims by so many countries leaves it lost in a crowd. Can we believe the ad, if every country, not to mention regular condominium block or electronics product, in Asia is making the same claim?
Am just being a bit basic about these meandering flourishes of prose, but really I don’t see the point. Why can’t we just call a spade a spade, talk in a real comprehensible language that adds value to our search and not try to confuse us with useless diatribe. The superlative should be banned. And as one of my planners always says, “good products sell themselves”.
Allan Fraser-Rush is Global Planning Director based in Lowe Singapore. He is also Visiting Professor in Marketing & Communications at Northampton University, UK.