Nothing claims better than…a claim.

All the shit that used to work
Don’t work now.
–Warren Zevon, “My Shit’s Fucked Up

What is it about claims? What is the power of its siren call to clients of all stripes?

Why must everything be stronger, longer and preferred 3 to 1? How is that even possible? Some advertising domains, like wireless phone service, automotive and analgesics, seem to inhabit a parallel universe in which the laws of statistics don’t apply—everything’s above average, like Garrison Keilor’s children of Lake Woebegone.

Back in the day, claims were the backbone of that package-goods stalwart, the Reason To Believe. They were a mashup of engineering and marketing, written to make sense to civilians but still trailing their cloak of numbers and percentages from the lab. And mostly, they worked.

So the claims-driven model was exported out of the world of detergents into other arenas, often with bizarre results. I remember a Procter & Gamble client in the early 80s, during a brief, unhappy period when the company was dabbling in the soft drink business, telling me excitedly he had data to support the claim that Orange Crush was preferred to Coke by Coke drinkers.

Never mind that this was an oranges-to-cola-nuts comparison, or that if it actually mattered, Crush’s market share wouldn’t be one hundredth of Coke’s. No, this finding demanded an enthusiastic Damn-let’s-run-with-it! kind of answer.

“So?” I asked.

Not the best response, but what was true then is (here’s a claim for you) even truer now. Maybe forty percent more!

Now that anyone (assuming they cared to) could get 2 zillion user’s ratings, expert opinions and blog reviews to compare to a company’s stated claim with one mouse-click, “Nothing works better” doesn’t work as well as it used to. You say you have fewer dropped calls? That’s not what CNet says! Or Jacko in the chatroom.

I’m using wireless service providers as an example partly because an article in the New York Times last week pointed to one reason why old-fashioned claims still make%


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