Weekly Thoughts


Weekly Thoughts: Pratfalls, We’ve Had a Few

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Pratfalls, We’ve Had A Few

Turns out, mistakes can make you more likable.  

Readers of our most recent Weekly Thoughts know we are not immune from making mistakes (yes, we know it’s Eliud not Eluid…).  In an effort to feel better after making such a blunder, we reminded ourselves that our mishap could make us beneficiaries of the so-called Pratfall Effect (fingers crossed).

As a reminder for the non-logophiles in the group, a pratfall is a “humiliating mishap or blunder”.  The aptly named Pratfall Effect was developed in 1966 by social psychologist Elliot Aronson in reference to his research which found that mistakes impact likability in a rather counter-intuitive manner: so long as the perception of competence is high, mistakes actually increase perceived attractiveness.

Psychology website Pysch2go explains Aronson’s initial research:

“Basically, under the pretenses that the experiment was reenacting a quiz show, participants were asked to listen to recordings of the quiz show run-through. Some recordings included the host accidentally knocking over a cup of coffee and reacting to it.  When participants were asked to rate the different hosts by likability, with the only difference being the coffee cup blunder, the coffee-spilling hosts’ perceived likability were much higher than the control group recordings.”

The theory, which has been replicated across multiple experiments, is that since perfection is unrelatable, it is less attractive. However, if high-achieving individuals make mistakes, they become more human, and therefore, more likable (of course, if you are low-achieving and make mistakes, you just become less attractive, sorry.)

Good thing we strategically made that typo, eh?

Turns out that marketers have been working this phenomenon for years. Also known as the “blemishing effect”, this tactic involves intentionally pointing out the problems with a product in an effort to increase its likability, and the approach has served as the backbone of some of the world’s most enduring marketing campaigns: Volkswagen Beetle’s “It’s ugly but it gets you there”, Avis’ “When you’re only number two you try harder. Or else”, Guinness’ “Good things come to those who wait”, Stella Artois’ “Reassuringly Expensive”, and finally, for our Canadian readers, Buckley’s ”It tastes awful. And it works”.

Of course, there is a difference between making a small blunder (typo in newsletter) and running an entire ad campaign highlighting your weaknesses. The inherent career risk for a marketing manager suggesting such a strategy ensures that the Pratfall Effort is not widely used, despite its previous successes. Nevertheless, we are intrigued by the possibilities of the tactic and look forward to using it as appropriate. As for our typos, despite our best editorial efforts, they are probably not going away entirely anytime soon, so get ready to find us very appealing.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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