This is about the senseless marketing inflation that is becoming prevalent in the marketing world and I am going to use the movie Spinal Tap to show how bad it is.

Just in case you don’t remember the movie Spinal Tap, or the moment I am going to reference, here it is:

“Our speakers no longer just go to ten … they go to 11! Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at 10. You’re on 10 here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on 10 on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?”

<Nigel Tufnel, explaining why his amp goes up to 11>

Here’s the deal. Look around at some marketing these days. If you are kind you will call it ‘value inflation’ … if you aren’t kind it is puffery.

And good ole The Economist actually gave me some great fodder in a recent edition (so I am going to steal some of their words shamelessly).

Their article showcased an aspect of how marketing is inflating everything.

Marketing inflation?

–          Take the grossly underreported problem of “size inflation”, where clothes of any particular labelled size have steadily expanded over time. Estimates by The Economist suggest that the average British size 14 pair of women’s trousers is now more than four inches wider at the waist than it was in the 1970s. In other words, today’s size 14 is really what used to be labelled a size 18; a size 10 is really a size 14. (American sizing is different, but the trend is largely the same.) Fashion firms seem to think that women are more likely to spend if they can happily squeeze into a smaller label size.

–          Inflation is also distorting the travel business. A five-star hotel used to mean the ultimate in luxury, but now six- and seven-star resorts are popping up as new hotels award themselves inflated ratings as a marketing tool. “Deluxe” rooms have been devalued, too: many hotels no longer have “standard” rooms, but instead offer a choice of “deluxe” (the new standard), “luxury”, “superior luxury” or “grand superior luxury”. Likewise, most airlines no longer talk about “economy” class. British Airways instead offers World Traveller; Air France has Voyageur. Sardine class would be more honest. The value of frequent-flyer miles is also being eroded by inflation: it is increasingly hard to book “free” flights; they cost more miles, and redemption fees have increased. This was inevitable: airlines have been issuing so many miles (for spending on the ground as well as in the air) that the total stock is worth more than all the dollar notes and coins in circulation.

–          Food-portion inflation has also made it harder to fight the flab. Pizzas now come in regular, large and very large. Starbucks coffees are Tall, Grande, Venti or (soon) Trenta. “Small” seems to be a forbidden word.

I believe this shameless hyperbole has become a plague in marketing. It is puffery at its worst.

And it is shameful for 2, among many, reasons:

–          It inspires confusion.

Confusion in that the value equation has been disrupted. Marketers have assumed we will value a ‘7 star’ over a ‘5 star’ because … well … it has more stars. Instead marketers have simply devalued an individual star to a point people are so confused they simply assess value on their own. Oh. And by doing THAT people will inevitably focus on the wrong things (commodity attributes & price). Confusion is bad in marketing.

–          In inspires distrust.

Because in the act of building false value <under the guise of differentiation> we are discrediting what we actually do. Inevitably this makes people basically lose trust in what we say. With the lack of trust marketers have no value to people … leading to simply ignoring or tuning out any messaging. Oh. And if marketers have no value then why have them? Regardless. No one is clear what is the ‘truth.’ And when that happens they disregard what is being said and simply ignore it. And ignore it for what it really is <as a truth> hyperbole.


And it is shameful because it is lazy. Yes. Lazy. I fully admit that it is significantly harder to discern what is really true in today’s world. But that is no excuse for marketers. In fact rather than try to take the ‘easy road’ <albeit the road with some horrible long term repercussions> marketers should be focusing on the more difficult road – truth.

Anyway. Back to the spinal tap marketing issue. The Economist suggests it is a form of inflation.

I am less kind.

It is hyperbole. And the worst kind. Because we are trying to skew what people think by stretching the truth <is that lying?>.

Lying sounds harsh but what else do we call it when we ‘create’ differentiation.

I fully understand that marketers need to respond to the market in order to help ‘sell their stuff.’ In this case this bad marketing behavior was exhibited in response to a couple of trends as identified by trendwatching – Mass Class and its opposite trend Massclusivity.

Increasing general prosperity spawned millions of new consumers interested in copying the tastes and preferences of the ‘rich & famous.’ This meant that manufacturers jumped on the enormous economies of scale as represented by this new mass of consumers by imitating the best of the best with lower cost alternatives. In some cases they imitated well. in other cases they simply imitated … with a lesser product. Regardless of their true quality, or non-quality, they imitated. And in doing so ultimately lowered the value of that which actually deserved the value.

This trend also spawned the next level called Massclusivity. Offering a level of privilege or status to the masses. Unfortunately it most likely offered neither privilege nor status to the traditional old style upper middle class.

So. In order to try and solve the problem marketers started ‘creating value’ in these absurd ways. The real problem? The imitators did it as well as the ‘real quality value’ providers. The imitators, in their falseness, blurred value.

It is too late but one would have wished that marketers would have been strong enough to stand up to the false imitators and stopped the problem before it began. But I imagine that means the marketing ‘hacks’ would have left money on the table and missed out on their opportunity for personal prosperity.

Oh well.

Marty DiBergi: David St. Hubbins… I must admit I’ve never heard anybody with that name.
David St. Hubbins: It’s an unusual name, well, he was an unusual saint, he’s not a very well known saint.
Marty DiBergi: Oh, there actually is, uh… there was a Saint Hubbins?
David St. Hubbins: That’s right, yes.
Marty DiBergi: What was he the saint of?
David St. Hubbins: He was the patron saint of quality footwear.

An entirely different level is of absurdity is that marketers also create spokespeople for random products & services hoping that they embody some type of credibility. In the attempt at borrowed interest the marketer simply gains a lack of believability. Ok. Good intentions … bad result.

Hopefully it never becomes as absurd as a ‘patron saint of quality footwear.’

And, yes, even beyond the spokespeople endorsers … it all becomes absurd at some point.

And in its absurdity it actually devalues everything it come in contact with <the second most disturbing would be the devaluing of trust>.  The foremost disturbing is that it distorts behavior because so many people are confused they aren’t sure what is actually the best thing to do <because inflating thru marketing suggest there is no real ‘best’ alternative>.

I imagine to be fair to those in marketing it appears this senseless inflation is prevalent throughout society.

There is grade inflation, the tendency for comparable academic performance to be awarded higher grades over time. In Britain the proportion of A-level students given “A” grades has risen from 9% to 27% over the past 25 years. Yet other tests find that children are no cleverer than they were. A study by Durham University concluded that an A grade today is the equivalent of a C in the 1980s. In American universities almost 45% of graduates now get the top grade, compared with 15% in 1960. Grade inflation makes students feel better about themselves, but because the highest grade is fixed, it also causes grade compression, which distorts relative prices. This is unfair to the brightest, whose grades are devalued against those of average students. It also makes it harder for employers to identify the best applicants.

There is job title inflation, where a fancier-sounding title is cheaper than a pay raise. Companies now have an excess of chiefs and directors. Job title inflation has economic costs if it makes it more difficult to assess proper compensation for skills.


Now that I have been fair to marketing people I will suggest it is no excuse.

I have already mentioned the professional laziness.

But, the bigger issue is that marketing, in many ways, can influence society and attitudes and ultimately behavior.

Marketing can lead.

Marketing has in fact a responsibility to lead society. Inflation is ultimately a value equation. If marketing establishes non-absurd value equations attitudes are established.

I know it seems absurd that I wrote a serious piece about marketing using Spinal Tap.

But it moves beyond absurdity with me when I realize I can write a serious piece on marketing using Spinal Tap as an example.

It disturbs me.

Which leads me to the close:

“It does disturb me, but I rise above it. I’m a professional” – Nigel

Trying to inflate value simply means we devalue what really is.

And if marketing does it ultimately it establishes a devalued benchmark. Yeah … yeah … yeah … some smartass is going to suggest that marketing is establishing a ‘new value economy.’


It is simply devaluing the existing one.

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Written by Bruce