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Boosterism - you can have too much of a good thing

Boosterism! The papers are full of it and it raises an interesting topic. The word has crept into official dictionaries but it isn’t very old. Websters claims that it originated in 1910. It’s probably a good bit older than that. During the 19th century many small towns in America sought to draw people by promoting their strengths. Sometimes even exaggerating their strengths. In other words, boosterism aims to give a boost to a proposition. The reason that the papers are full of it right now is because certain politicians are inclined to use it a lot. Johnson has pushed various policies and achievements as “world beating”. Trump’s Twitter feed turns up more than 1,200 mentions of the words “biggest,” “best” and “smartest.” Politicians know that (innocent?) exaggeration works. It gives people confidence and it gives them hope. It can sometimes make them proud.

Marketers are very familiar with boosterism although they have never used this word to describe their promotions. They know that customer experience is enhanced by reinforcing their decision to buy a product. You could argue that this is fair game and harmless. In fact, if it gives people comfort and an improved experience, you would say that it is surely beneficial.

Boosterism is not confined just to marketing. It is there in the higher echelons of our businesses. Many mission statements are a kind of boosterism. These statements of guff are devised following earnest discussions, especially nuancing the difference between purpose, visions and missions. It is all done in the hope that some phrase will be devised that will appeal to customers, employees and shareholders. It is boosterism at its worst. For example, Krispy Kreme returned to public markets early this summer selling its calorie laden doughnuts. After careful consideration it was declared in its prospectus that its mission was “As an affordable indulgence enjoyed across cultures, races and income levels, we believe that Krispy Kreme has the potential to deliver joyful experiences across the world.” Look, we are all marketers. We know that Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously said that he wasn’t selling lipstick, he was selling hope. But claiming that Krispy Kreme is in the business of delivering joyful experiences across the world seems just a little bit stretched.

The problem with boosterism is that it can backfire. The occasional boost may turbocharge an idea or an event. However, repeated boosting becomes a drug which loses its potency. People become inured to it and may eventually become cynical and react adversely. When WeWork launched its public offering in 2019 it said “We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness.” What on earth does that mean? At least it seems to have learned its lesson. Its initial hyperbole resulted in the shares tanking and its founder and boss being ejected. In a relaunch in October 2021 it dropped its boosterism and proclaimed a vision “to create environments where people and companies come together and do their best work”. Now that is believable and it makes sense.

As is often the case in marketing, customer experience and mission statements, there is a fine line between what is good and bad. Of course, when we are selling ourselves or our company we must put our best side forward. It would be a dereliction of duty if we failed to mention a key strength that we know would resonate with the customer. But let’s keep a sense of perspective. We have to live up to our claims. Before you can claim that a virus contact-tracing app is going to be world beating, check out the results of the test on the Isle of Wight. It might prove to be embarrassing boosterism.


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