WHAT'S REAL, WHAT'S HYPE-NOTIC

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How much hype is too much hype? It's a delicate balance, as Procter & Gamble found in its quest to attain approval for its fat substitute, olestra. And as the early riders of the information superhighway have learned to their chagrin.

One family I know, whose young son is about to perform an extraordinary feat, has solved the dilemma in its own way: Any hype, they believe, is too much hype.

When P&G announced in 1987 that the FDA had accepted its petition for use of a new fat substitute, most people thought it would take about two years to approve olestra as a new food ingredient.

"Unbridled enthusiasm for the ingredient's potential swirled in and around the company, creating enormous expectations and an unusual openness by P&G about a product still years away from being marketed," we reported in a comprehensive article last issue on the olestra saga. P&G spared no expense to beat the drums for olestra.

"Looking back, the biggest problem we had was runaway enthusiasm for olestra," a P&G executive told us.

There's nothing wrong with enthusiasm, but before you get everybody all worked up-including your future customers-you'd better be sure you can bring the product to market and that consumers are going to like what they see.

If and when P&G ever gets FDA approval for olestra, I have a very strong hunch its introduction will be much more subdued. It's hard to stoke up enthusiasm for the same thing twice.

That's why the PR brigade for the information superhighway might have already overplayed its hand. Critics are starting to call it the information superhypeway.

As the mergers and tests get called off or postponed, "People start saying, `Aha, it's happening again. These guys make promises they can't keep. The business isn't real. Let's forget about it,"' said veteran media consultant Gary Arlen.

One of the reasons to whip up enthusiasm for a new project is to sweep people onto the bandwagon. But if the bandwagon hits a pothole, it's hard to get them to reboard.

I admire my friends' solution, even though their son's upcoming experience could have generated lots of ink. They believe, quite firmly, that their son should do what he does for the love and enjoyment of the activity-not for the acclaim of others. His parents think that principle will serve him well the rest of his life and it's worth the momentary disappointment of the world's not knowing about his accomplishment.

I must admit I argued that their boy deserved the recognition. But they felt that it's all too easy to confuse achievement with fame, however fleeting, and pretty soon people start thinking that fame is achievement. So they respectfully decline to seek out publicity for their son.

Not a bad lesson for P&G and Mr. Super-hypeway.

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