In psychology, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. It also occurs when an emotional response is repeatedly evoked in situations in which the action tendency that is associated with the emotion proves irrelevant or unnecessary.
Don’t believe me: Read all about it on Wikipedia.
Here’s the point, though: I’m sick of media screaming to me. Every headline is jam-packed to bursting with insistent superlatives. The Huffington Post is a particularly horrid case study, as evidenced by just a few of today’s headlines:
“This 3D Printer, Capable Of Building A House In A Day, Could Change Construction Forever” (Forever? Really?)
“This Guy Will Forever Change The Way You Think About The ‘Friend Zone’ ” (Forever? Really? Oh, and WTF is a friend zone?)
“The Way We Watch Video Will Soon Change Forever” (Forever? Really? What, we’re gonna watch through our sphincters?)
My email inbox is another irritating case study:
“This changes everything!” (It’s an ad for the eM14 conference in San Francisco. Nothing changes.)
“Super-charge your logo with this awesome techie gift” (It’s an ad for portable USB chargers. Yawn.)
“Clarity 2.0 – The Best Advisory Board Ever Created” (It’s an ad for … oh, never mind.)
Then there’s all the articles on my LinkedIn feed:
“Best way to get a job nobody’s using” (Really? Nobody’s sharing passion?)
“5 Free Apps No Salesperson Can Survive Without” (Really? I bet plenty are.)
“Will Link Building Soon Be A Thing Of The Past?” (Really? You have to ask? No, it won’t; don’t be a dolt.)
Let’s not leave out my Twitter feed:
Facebook pokes holes in Princeton research with a hysterical parody (Sorry, it’s really not that funny.)
10 Examples of Amazing Viral Marketing Videos (Sorry, a couple of them are okay, but amazing?)
An unbelievable marketing resource! (Sorry, it’s actually quite believable … and relatively common.)
Everything everywhere is screaming READ ME! READ ME! READ ME! The problem, of course, is that the imperative reason stated for having to read the content in question is virtually never fulfilled.
Sorry, HuffPo: Your article will not change my thinking forever. Sorry, advertiser, your event or product will not change me forever.
Collectively, this sort of messaging hurts everyone. Readers, as a whole, are becoming desensitized to the idea of headlines having any meaning whatsoever. The rhetorical arms race is rendering language ineffective.
I fear it will get a lot worse before it gets any better — but in order for it to begin to get better, communicators need to unilaterally disarm by shelving the extreme superlatives.
Takeaway for marketers: Enough, already, with over-promising and under-delivering. Don’t you get pissed off when you’re on the receiving end of that one? Try under-promising and over-delivering … and think for a minute how you feel when you’re on the receiving end of that one.