What is hyperbole? It’s when you tell someone that the product they’re about to experience will change their lives forever. The chances are they won’t believe you. When you further explain that it’ll open their consciousness to dream-filled fields where the only clouds in the sky are those that rain joy and success, they’re likely to snigger or scowl. When you wave your hands at them insisting that no, wait, it’ll crawl inside their brain like a vivacious squirrel burrowing nuts of happiness into their central nervous system, they back slowly out of the room. The simple explanation is that hyperbole is overly dramatic language. It’s not necessarily convincing, but it certainly has its uses.
What is hyperbole?
Hyperbole usually occurs in common expressions that make a dramatic but unrealistic claim. For instance I’m so tired I could sleep for a year, or I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. More generally, it is any instance where an excessive (usually obvious) exaggeration has been made. To illustrate the point, my opening paragraph started with that life changing cliché and spiralled into more unfamiliar territory with increasingly specific hyperbole.
It’s an interesting area to discuss because the majority of copywriters you find use very colourful language to sell. It’s entertaining, it encourages reading and it develops a rapport. But often it strays into the realm of hyperbole, where you should tread carefully.
Hyperbolic expressions are often very clichéd. And clichés are too common to be memorable or convincing. Hyperbolic clichés can make you feel like a million dollars. They’re the best thing sliced bread. They’re going to be filed in the brain in the dusty drawers of meaningless words and expressions that don’t elicit a response. Make your words stand out by twisting clichés (then they can make you feel like a teetering stack of a million two-pound coins, for example). Better yet, don’t rely on overused idioms.
Entertainment as a tool
Hyperbole rarely gives concrete information as it is not designed to be believed. Hyperbole is not effective as a means of providing information or explanation, for example. More often, the purpose is to entertain. You tell a customer you have a bottle of beer that warms the heart like the hug of a thousand fairies. They probably don’t believe you. They might not even believe in fairy hugs (idiots!). But they might buy the beer because you’re selling fun. If your message is enjoyable, then your product is fun to consume, and the experience has already begun.
When not to try this
Using hyperbole is very similar to using humour in copywriting. Some customers are not looking to be entertained. Business writing has very little room for humour, likewise customers of certain products and services. Entertaining language can be appropriate when selling social and lifestyle products, but if you tried the same with a more serious service it will appear insincere. You’re selling a padlock and you tell your customer that the furious desires of a thousand master thieves could not pick it. The customer, shopping for security, is unlikely to trust a salesperson who makes silly comments.
Keep a handle on your hyperbole by using it wisely. As always, focus on the result of the writing – if entertainment does not factor into it, hyperbole probably doesn’t either.
I hope this article goes some way to explaining what hyperbole is – if you have any further questions, or just want to shoot off some hyperbole of your own, please join in. In addition to demonstrating that you know what hyperbole is, commenting below will send the dreams of a thousand angels through your fingertips directly to your soul!