This morning while walking Shadow, I spotted one of the vans from a local painting company that I often see all around town. Emblazoned on the side and back of each of these vans is the proclamation:

Voted #1!

That’s pretty awesome. But what does it mean?

Who voted them #1? And for what were they voted? Are they the #1 painters? Or sushi chefs? And #1 in Lancaster? On their block?

It didn’t say. I can assume it was probably from one of the many “Best of Lancaster” lists that local newspapers and magazines do every year. But I’m not sure. Which raises the next question: when were they voted #1? The year they painted that on the vans? And if so, are they still #1? If they aren’t, perhaps they should remove that little section from their vans.

Or perhaps they should qualify it with (and I’m making this up):

Voted #1 House Painters in Lancaster County in 2011 by a group of readers from one magazine.

And perhaps they should add:

And we lobbied really hard online and offline to get that vote. It has very little to do with how people really feel about us.

It’s all reminiscent of that “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene in Elf.

Numbers, ratings, awards, and other such superlative driven accolades all need to be understood through the filter of context.

For instance, the other day I saw several headlines proclaiming Axl Rose the greatest vocalist or singer of all time. Really? Turns out that some researchers checked the vocal range of a bunch of artists and ranked them accordingly, and Rose came out on top. Never mind that only a handful of artists were compared, or that only their recorded vocals were studied.

And since when does vocal range equal greatest vocalist? It doesn’t. It’s like arguing who the greatest shortstop of all time is. Everyone uses different criteria.

As for those local “Best of” lists, I’ve participated in them. I’ve voted. I’ve helped clients campaign to get votes; and that’s the point. The entire thing is very contrived for the purpose of generating advertising revenue. Winning a category on one of those lists isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality. Popularity contests, (and stacked popularity contests, mind you), are the same as being the best.

When you equivocate like this about your business, it might win you points with some customers, but it’s not reality. If you win an award, tell us what the award is, when you got it, and what criteria was used. Simply telling us you’re #1 or “the best” isn’t enough. And in fact, it’s dangerous. It’s like putting a bullseye on your back so that people can take potshots at you. It’s like buying a CD called “Nickelback’s Greatest Hits.”

The moment someone proclaims you the best, others will take aim and dispute that claim. And if you don’t live up to that claim, you look foolish.