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Worlds Greatest Guitarist

I am constantly amazed by how people, myself included, occasionally over exaggerate. It’s pretty common in normal speech but it seems to be almost required in marketing material. Words like Greatest, Biggest, Most Effective, Fastest, Fluffiest, Zestiest, etc… I sometimes wonder how people come up with this stuff. For example, I ran across this video on utube:

Best Guitar Improvisation Ever

Entertaining no doubt, but “Best Guitar Improvisation Ever”???

Who voted on that? Were professionals allowed to compete, like say Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, Buckethead, Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Clark, Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Andres Segovia,  …  ? (sorry if I left off you’re favorite, but you get the idea)

Some of it is shameless self promotion, but I blame most of this stuff on marketing guys. I don’t hold it against them, they have to make a living too. But they do a couple of things that amuse me.

  1. They make the previously mentioned exaggerated claims.
  2. They make up official sounding statistics to support their exaggerated claims.
  3. They write their own quotes (and attribute them to people that they wish had said them).
  4. They are obsessed with “look and feel” stuff (“It’s more important to look good, than to feel good”).

Let’s begin with bullet number one (exaggerated claims):

Here’s a couple of outrageous claims I ran across (names altered or withheld to protect the guilty).

  • “Joe and Bill are recognized as the two best-selling Oracle Authors in the world.  With combined authorship of over 25 books, Joe & Bill are the two most respected Oracle authorities on the planet.  For the first time ever, Joe & Bill combine their talents in this exceptional handbook.”

  • Did you know that there’s a way to burn 3 to 15 pounds of fat PERMANENTLY and SAFELY . . . WHILE YOU SLEEP?! 100% Guaranteed!
  • “Because you haven’t just found people who know a little bit about what you’re going through – you’ve found the undisputed heavyweight Oracle experts.”

That last one was bad enough without emphasizing the outrageous claim by using a bold font. And just to show I’m not playing favorites, that one is from the web site of the company I work for!

Anyway, moving on to bullet number two (questionable statistical support):

As I write this, Oracle has just released their latest version of their Database software (11gR2). By the way, although it has some pretty cool new features, it’s only a minor release. The first version of 11g was released a couple of years ago. Anyway, Oracle created a “White Paper” to point out some of the new features of the latest release. You can see the original version here:

Lowering your IT Costs with Oracle Database 11g Release 2

The marketing guys obviously got a hold of this document. The introduction section makes the following claims:

Oracle Database 11g Release 2, the second release of the award winning Oracle
Database 11g, provides the foundation for IT professionals to successfully deliver more
information with higher quality of service, make more efficient use of their budgets, and
reduce the risk of change in data centers. By deploying Oracle Database 11g Release 2
as their data management foundation, organizations can utilize the full power of the
worldʼs leading database to:

• reduce server costs by a factor of 5,
• reduce storage requirements by a factor of 12,
• improve mission critical system performance by a factor of 10,
• increase DBA and Developer productivity by a factor of 2,
• eliminate idle redundancy in the data center, and
• simplify their overall IT software portfolio.

I made the comment on the oracle-l list that it reminded me of a quote from True Grit (it’s an old John Wayne movie). Robert Duvall played the bad guy, a character named Ned Pepper. When John Wayne confronts Ned and his whole gang and tells them he’s going to arrest them or kill them, Ned says:

  • “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”

Anyway, I’m not sure how Oracle’s marketing guys calculated all those numbers, but it seems like they might be exaggerated just a bit. Will this latest version really improve my “mission critical system performance by a factor of 10”? I really find that hard to believe. And to be honest, I’m not even sure what “idle redundancy” is.

Which brings me to bullet number three (made up quotes):

I don’t know why, but marketing guys don’t seem to like the way normal people talk. Not enough superlatives I guess. So they have a tendency to make up their own quotes. Usually they ask for permission before publishing them (I think), but nevertheless, I’ll bet half the quotes you see in marketing materials were not actually ever said by a real human being. I know I’ve been asked to sign off on quotes that some body else wrote in the past. It’s kind of like dealing with little kids. They just wear you down until you finally give in. “OK, OK, you can play with the matches, but do in the back yard where you’re less likely to burn the house down!” – Anyway, web sites are a great source of quotes. Here are a couple I ran across recently:

  • “From educators to defibrillators, we help all kinds of people and organizations optimize their results by squeezing every kilobyte of performance out of their IT and Oracle investments.”

  • “Clean data and streamlined operations mean fewer network management headaches, fewer replications, lower costs and high-octane data for better decision-making.”
  • “We strive to offer stability in the constantly changing technology marketplace. That’s why we integrate wisdom, integrity, skill and experience into a customized consulting experience for our clients.”
  • “Today’s e-business solutions are heavily database-dependent,” said Osborne. “We believe our core competency in database technology, combined with our other value-added services, uniquely positions ThinkSpark to assist our clients in the realization of their business goals and potential.”

That last one was attributed to me some years ago. Can’t you just hear me saying “e-business solutions” and “value-added services”. Ha!

And finally, bullet number four (imagery):

The visual imagery used in marketing pieces seems to be much more important to the guys designing it than to those of us consuming it. It seems to go through fashion trend like cycles as well. For a while all the web sites had moving graphic elements, then they were all over-run with mechanical imagery. All this stuff is not just pretty pictures. These guys actually spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of response the graphic produces in it’s viewers. A lot of companies in the computer world seem to want to stress the fact they are not machines, but rather are real people. That’s why you see a lot pictures of people on computer services marketing material. But the marketing guys still want it to look good. So they rarely use pictures of people that actually work at the companies. You know what I mean. Here are a couple of examples:

You may notice that the marketing guys are promoting a blend of youthful, but experienced workforce which is culturally diverse. You may also recognize some of the people as the same models tend to show up on multiple sites.

So that’s it for my rant on marketing stuff. Let me know what you think. I’ll leave you with a few classic quotes about advertising/marketing (I know they’re not exactly the same, but they’re not exactly different either):

  • “In general, my children refused to eat anything that hadn’t danced on TV.” – Erma Bombeck
  • “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” – Stephen Leacock
  • “Let advertisers spend the same amount of money improving their product that they do on advertising and they wouldn’t have to advertise it.” – Will Rogers
  • “It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.” – Rod Serling
  • “Don’t tell my mother I work in an advertising agency; she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.” – Jacques Seguela


  1. Oracle’s claim:
    – increase DBA and Developer productivity by a factor of 2

    What if I don’t want to work twice as hard?!?

  2. osborne says:

    Well it will probably only run 5X faster then instead of 10X.


  3. John Brady says:

    For me the best quote about marketing is from the late, great comedian Bill Hicks:

    “By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourselves. Kill yourselves, seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good. Seriously, no this is not a joke. […] you are Satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage. […] Kill yourself.”

    Never a truer word.

  4. Ram says:

    I have seen a commercial for cooking oil long ago where a young good looking lady dressed in brand new clothes and fresh-out-of-the-shower look cooking with their brand of oil, all the while smiling brigtly. I remember my friend telling that he wanted to know the lady who smiled while cooking.

    They say that if you repeat something often, it becomes a truth.

  5. Karen Morton says:

    Here’s what I wonder, particularly about the whole self-aggrandizing propaganda where people claim to be the “best on the planet” and such:
    If you’re really good at what you do, how do you sell yourself in a way that works? Ads that say “I’m good…really” just don’t stand out in a world where you’ve got trumpets blaring and banners waving about how great your competition is. I still find it utterly baffling that anyone would buy those kinds of lines (and hire those that spout them or buy products that make such over the top claims) but, at least in some way, it must work or marketers wouldn’t use that swill. Geesh…

  6. osborne says:

    That’s a tough one Karen. We are all bombarded by this stuff day in and day out and so I think most of us have developed a healthy scepticism. I basically don’t believe anything I hear anymore (and only about half of what I see). It’s a kind of a sad commentary on our world, but it’s true.

    It reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote – something to the effect of:

    “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

    And a couple from the Bible:

    “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
    I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

    “… let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay …”

    So anyway, I don’t really have an answer for you, but my hope is that people will know us by our actions (at least the people that matter to us).


  7. joel garry says:

    Robert Fripp, Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin! 😉

    I always thought those Mad Magazine bits about “what they say and what they really mean” were so funny, cheap and easy shots.

    But I’m still waiting for to never see again ora-155x errors, as one presentation said about a decade ago…

    two words: Dec climaxes

  8. osborne says:

    Ha! I forgot about Al DiMeola! I went to a workshop back in the 80’s where he was the instructor. All I can say is wow! He was showing us the warm up routine he did before shows which consisted of various fingering exercises that got faster and faster as he went along. The last one was very complicated and mind blowingly fast. And he says, “If I can pull that one off, I know it’s going to be a pretty good night.” He got a big laugh from the participants.

    I remember that bit from the Mad Magazine. My favorite part of the magazine was the fold over pages that would turn one picture into something completely different!


  9. Michael Fontana says:

    Reduce storage requirements by a factor of 12?

    Does Larry give people raises when they write software that does this, or has he realized it’s just cheaper to hire a marketing copy writer with an inventive style?

  10. PB says:

    For me, and I hope many of you, if you want to hire a de-facto expert or buy the best product, etc, you ask around to find out who people know or what products they use. Then, if your friend or colleague says “I use product XYZ” or “I know this person that is perfect for what you are looking for” then you go with that word of mouth recommendation. Word of mouth is such a powerful tool. Some of the most successful business people I’ve met do very little advertising and get most of their business through word of mouth. Forget the hype.

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