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Hype vs. Buzz

Adam K. Chorney
05.05.03-Brooklyn, NY

The world of marketing is full of catch phrases and buzzwords that are essentially meaningless. In an attempt to stay relevant, unenlightened businessmen throw out words that make them seem like they’re on top of things, when in actuality they’re just spewing jargon for jargon’s sake. Two of the more commonly abused words of this ilk are "hype" and "buzz" – words that most people have come to assume to be analogous, but which are, in actuality, hardly the same thing.

Essentially, the difference between the two is that one is organic, whereas the other is manufactured. Buzz occurs when consumers discover a product they like and start talking about it with their friends. Hype, on the other hand, is when a marketer tries to manufacture a buzz through artificial means.

Here’s are two examples to illustrate:

Wilco was a modestly successful alt-country band that never sold all that many records – not by major label standards, anyway. So when the band turned in its most recent album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, to the suits at its label, it was summarily rejected for being "too difficult." In the resulting brouhaha over the fate of the album, the band bought the master tapes back from the record company, and started to shop it around to other, smaller labels.

While shopping it around, however, Wilco decided to post MP3s of the album on its web site so dedicated fans wouldn’t have to wait to hear what was being regarded in the press as its best album ever. Of course, once the songs were posted, the talk about how great the album was got even louder.

And, of course, when the band finally signed with its new, smaller label (for three times the money of its old contract), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot went on to sell more copies than any of its previous records – by a landslide.

This was buzz at work.

On the other hand, is Willa Ford. Willa is a pop singer in the vein of the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. When her record company was preparing to launch her debut album, they developed a series of Willa Ford "fan sites" on the Internet to make it seem like she had a loyal stable of supporters. Problem was, no one had heard her record yet, so there were no supporters to be had. Thus, the fake fan sites. This was hype. And to answer the question of whether or not it worked, ask yourself a rhetorical question. Have you ever heard of Willa Ford?

Marketers need to realize that consumers are savvy to their techniques. They may not know the difference between hype and buzz in the academic sense, but they sure do recognize the difference in practice.

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