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DANGER: Superlatives Ahead!

Those Who Can Get Away With It And Those Who Can’t


 In case you’re a little rusty in vocabulary, here are a few examples of superlatives:

  • Best
  • Cheapest
  • Largest
  • Most Famous
  • Greatest

I really don’t know what possesses a business owner to use these terms in their advertising

Wait. Yes I do! Stupidity. Greed. Ignorance. And a major case of smugness and conceit.

I suppose in the case of a one horse town with one pizza shop, the owner can get away with the tagline, “The Best Pizza In Town”.

If you are in the retail or wholesale product business, or selling some other kind of non-financial product or service, I suppose you can say whatever you want (well, almost…). If you truly think you have the best Stromboli in the universe, GO FOR IT! No harm, no foul. The taste, texture and smells of food are very subjective anyway. Your best might be my worst, so there may be no point to argue.

“The best recliner in the city for an achy back”? What’s the harm? Even if your store does have a money-back guarantee, you’ll more than likely sell many more with probably a few returns, based on that claim of greatness.

If I order what you tout as “World-Class” prime rib… Well, I’d hope it would something near nirvana. But would I say something if it wasn’t? Probably not. So what are the repercussions? Unless your food is horrendously bad, you’ll probably still be able keep your doors open despite your lofty assertions. And probably make a decent living, all things considered.

On the other hand, as an insurance agent I need to be careful. When it comes to financial products, including insurance and other instruments, superlatives are terms you should NOT toss around haphazardly in your advertising, or even in conversation.

I’ll stick to the insurance side of things, since I’m generally ignorant about investments and financial instruments. I know for certain in my home state of Pennsylvania, superlatives are taboo, and can actually create legal troubles. If you think you have the BEST insurance product for Joe Contractor, you better not verbalize it or advertise it as such in any other fashion.

If you do, you could be in for big fines, even loss of licensure for misrepresentation, false claims and a plethora of other conduct violations (at least in PA, and probably most or all others).

In my recent travels I ran across a multi-location agency which used the tag line on outdoor signage of “Your Cheapest Insurance”. My first thought was, “God. How lame is that?” Then I REALLY thought about it. That’s a very tall claim to make. Quantify that please. More info needed. Cheapest in what regard? According to who? We all know cheapest isn’t the best, but I have a hunch in that office it was ALSO THE BEST. Why would it be anything but?

This particular business happened to be in another state where I contemplated licensing my own agency. I was determined by the time I started selling in that state, I would be reporting this agency to that state’s insurance department.

Fortunately, someone beat me to it, or perhaps the owner had a revelation about his tactics. I was relieved to not have to spend my valuable time and energy on such craziness and could focus on being this agency’s competitor!

There’s nothing wrong with touting your product or service. There’s something wrong if you don’t! But don’t get egotistical about it. Don’t be fake. Don’t try to be all things to all people, no matter what your business is. Don’t be grandiose.

Be bold, but yet modest. Use words which reasonably describe what makes your business unique and different. Don’t BS. Be quirky, but humble.

Provide quality and dependability at a fair cost. That’s all people really want, from any business… be it a good pizza or a reasonably priced insurance contract with sound coverages through a knowledgeable agent.

Brian Matthias