The Power of Massive HypeJuly 14th, 2010 by Brian Edwards
The Wall Street Journal today is reporting that the vast majority of Toyota accidents were the result of…driver error. Not sticky brake pedals:
The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said.
The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.
What’s even more fascinating is how the grievance count suddenly shot up once people heard about the problem. Actually, we didn’t just hear about it, but were barraged by a non-stop, relentless news cycle involving electronic media, print and online media outlet and social media buzz. Did the hype – not problems with Toyota – lead to the jump in complaints? I’d say that looks like a pretty safe assumption.
A similar case of hype leading to mass hysteria is the latest (albeit flawed) Apple iPhone. While it’s a nice device, there is very little that’s truly new or groundbreaking. If you already have an iPhone or an Android device, there’s not much reason to run right out and buy one. The rational response would be to hold off until your natural upgrade cycle comes around.
The irrational response, fueled by months of breathless expectation by media and bloggers, along with Steve Jobs’ showmanship at launch, resulted in the thousands upon thousands of people waiting in line to drop down their hard-earned money on a device virtually the same as what they already have. Say what? My take, is the hype created a form of temporary insanity on a mass level, perhaps akin to the way mobs work.
Another example is designer handbags among teenage girls. Although somewhat tempered of late by the recession, my daughter went through a phase where she simply had to have expensive purses. Working a minimum wage job, she would save pennies to get the latest Dooney & Bourke offering. I would see her purses and just couldn’t understand why she along with many other teenage girls would pay so much for what amounted to a fancy label. Hype and peer pressure are the only explanations.
As a PR person, I’m aware of the influence of hype and therefore largely resistant to its influence. I counseled friends to buy Toyotas when the sales crashed earlier this year, and tend to avoid overhyped, overpriced Apple products.
But I am fascinated by the incredible power of hype to shape people’s behavior.
To no small degree, this is what marketing, advertising and PR people dream about and strategize endlessly to achieve. Get enough hype, and you have just hit the lottery. So what’s the magic formula? Still working on that one, but I’ll let you know once I figure it out.