Hype Is Not News But We Keep Acting Like It Is



This morning I read a headline from the Wall Street Journal that had promise, especially as it could impact online marketers. The title of the story read: Web Tool on Firefox to Deter Tracking.

Interesting, right? Here is what the Journal had to say about the tool.

Mozilla Corp. plans to add a do-not-track feature to its Firefox Web browser, which could let users avoid having their actions monitored online.

The announcement makes Firefox the first Web browser to heed the Federal Trade Commission’s call for the development of a do-not-track system. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Mozilla was exploring the development of such a system.

For Firefox’s tool to work, however, tracking companies would need to agree to not monitor users who enable the do-not-track feature. So far, no companies have publicly agreed to participate in the system, but Mozilla urged them to join in.

“Mozilla recognizes the chicken and egg problem,” the company’s newly appointed global privacy and public-policy leader, Alexander Fowler, wrote in a blog post. But, he wrote, Mozilla is asking that websites and advertisers join its efforts to “honor people’s privacy choices.”

Still interesting, right? Firefox has been dinged lately due to complaints on speed and the wider use of Google’s Chrome browser so you think, “Hey, these guys are looking to differentiate themselves from the market and get some of their mojo back.”

Well, as with many things Internet related these days there is no real news to report here. Why? Here’s the last sentence of the article (which helps you to skip over plenty of interesting stuff that apparently is not any threat to be a reality any time soon).

Mozilla said it isn’t clear if the new tool would be ready to be included in the coming Firefox 4.0 release, or a later version of the software.

Well, then why am I reading about it as if it is ‘news’? This is where the online space stubs its toe all the time and it’s the fault of the Internet industry as a whole, and online marketers, especially. This rush for content and news has created a whole new technique of reporting on what I will call ‘potential news’.

It’s kind of like announcing to people that you are buying a really cool car then saying “Well, I am buying it at some point in the future. At least I am pretty sure that I am. So I just wanted to tell you now so you would like me more.” Whether you buy it or not isn’t the story, it’s the potential for you to buy it. That’s not news, that’s dreaming.

This practice of pre-hype is just pathetic. If you are in the online marketing or PR space you really need to see this kind of approach to content as troubling.

Why? Because it’s just touching the line of being a lie. A lie you say? How can you say that? Well, what if the product never happened (which sounds just as possible from this story as its inclusion in any future version of Firefox)? What then?

In the eyes of the promoter, nothing really because the news cycle long ago buried the original ‘attention getter’ so who cares? No harm, no foul, right?

Actually no. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. This mad rush to ‘out-content’ the next guy is creating so much crap online that it’s getting harder and harder to tell truth from spin from reality etc. I know it’s always been that way but it seems as if this practice is ratcheting up in intensity. Look at the hype machine that took Groupon from neat site with considerable success to a $15 billion ‘unstoppable machine’ despite the many obvious weak spots in their armor. It’s ridiculous.

So I ask you, is it worth it to set up the potential to be the company or product or PR mouthpiece who cried “Promote!”? I don’t think so because it’s practices like this one that chip away at the credibility of the media more than ever and it is accelerated in the online space like never before.

So, back to our Mozilla example. Is it worth some eyeballs to have some people actually pay attention to the organization for a little while but then have those who remember this ‘announcement’ call for some follow through in the future when there may or may not be any?

I suppose we can be just as guilty here at Marketing Pilgrim in helping to spread some of this stuff (predictions of future performance on anything are a good example) but we just talk about what we see. What’s troubling is that as more of what we see is not anchored in any reality then what’s actually happening? A whole lot of nothing that will lead to people believing anything which sounds an awful lot like the end of the last century.

I thought maybe we had learned something. Looks like I was asking too much and bought the hype, huh?

  • http://www.corporatebloggingtips.com Douglas Karr

    I’m going to have to disagree with this one. You don’t have to have a release date to have news. We don’t have a cure for cancer, but I’m sure everyone is interested in the progress of the initiatives leading up to it. The irony is that I was unaware of the system you were speaking about and am now quite interested in seeing what I can find out.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Douglas – You can be as interested as you want but you’re wasting your time since there is no indication of when this will be a reality. Funny that Google announced its own version today for Chrome which is actually available. It works differently but it’s available.

  • http://www.directresponse.net Sacha

    I think that as humans we can all be held accountable for creating “hype” to some extent. It’s a way for us to market a particular product, to gain recognition, or sure – to spark peoples’ interest – we all do it! There’s nothing wrong with that. A lot of the time, situations like this arise because people or organizations initially tend to have a goal in mind, and sometimes plans don’t follow through. Of course there are exceptions (take y2K for instance – the only goal there was to fuel propaganda and scare the bejesus out of people) but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it lying. Why not give people the benefit of the doubt – if a year or two goes by and we hear nothing more as to the progress of this new Mozilla feature, then and only then will it be a lie!

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Benefit of the doubt? No thanks. I like the truth personally and it seems in short supply these days due to the need to out hype the next guy. It is what it is though. Oh well.

  • Cynthia

    I’m somewhere in between. Every week, I read a couple of articles that sound like something at the start and by the time I get to the end, I realize they haven’t said anything at all. I won’t say that all of my articles are organized beacons of enlightenment, but hopefully they either make a point or leave you thinking more about a subject and how it effects your work.

    The article you reference reminds me of the ones you always see in the entertainment news about how a certain actor is thinking about maybe working on a movie even though the movie isn’t even officially being made. Sometimes it’s about getting that actor’s name in the press and sometimes it’s about a slow news day.

    The trouble with the internet is that we have to keep filling it up. The Wall Street Journal can’t publish a half empty paper or website. If there’s no big news, the reporters have to produce anyway and so do we.

  • http://www.top40marketing.com John

    Wow if Mozzilla actually goes through with this it could cause a chain reaction and cause the other search engines to do the same. I hope it doesn’t go through I think tracking is an essential part to internet marketing. This is kind of pre- hype but it could be something Mozzilla’s going to add to their next release.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Google’s already released one with Chrome,