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If you want to connect with your customers you need to humanise your brand - here's how

The Praftfall Study

Picture this: You're presented with a tray of cookies. They are identical except some have rough edges while others are perfectly smooth. Which would you choose? Would it surprise you that - 66% preferred the cookie with the rough edges?

The Pratfall Effect was first theorised in 1966 by Harvard University psychologist Elliot Aronson.

The Study:

48 college men were divided into four groups. Each group was given a different recording of somebody answering questions.

These people were pre-framed, so each group knew something about the backstory and character of the person speaking on the recording.

The 4 recordings were:

  1. Somebody pre-framed as average answering questions

  2. Somebody pre-framed as superior answering questions

  3. Somebody pre-framed as average answering questions and loudly spilling a cup of coffee

  4. Somebody pre-framed as superior answering questions and loudly spilling a cup of coffee

After the recordings, the 4 groups were asked about their impression of the people on the tapes.

The Pratfall Effect concluded that when we see somebody we hold in high esteem make a mistake or error, they appeared more likable. However, when those we don’t hold in high esteem make an error or mistake, we tend to like them even less.

Let's face it every product or brand has a flaw — but most companies  ignore it in favour of positive messages about their products. Everyone wants to be seen as perfect, the perfect track record, perfect 5-star customer reviews…. but when you're selling a good product that helps people directly you don't need to always talk about your success.

In some situations being less than perfect is actually far more appealing. The Pratfall Effect theorised that small imperfections or errors can boost your appeal making you more relatable. People crave honesty and transparency, real and authentic business communication.

Here's how you can use The Praftall Effect in your Business Communication Strategy

VW Lemon Ad

1) Use it as a Hook Perhaps the most famous example of the pratfall effect in marketing is the VW Beetle campaigns of the 1950s and 60s. At the time, the car was everything that the American consumer didn’t want, small and ugly.

VW's ad campaign gloried the flaws of the Beetle with headlines like: ‘Lemon’, ‘One of the nice things about owning it is selling it’, ‘And if you run out of gas, it’s easy to push’, “Think Small”, and ‘Nobody’s perfect’. Their campaigns used those negatives to grab attention. What you can do:

Clancy Autobody Shop Tik Tok Pratfall Effect

If you have a great product that does all the right things for your target audience you can highlight some of your weaknesses as a hook . A good example is Clancy's Autobody shop. They managed to grow their TikTok following from 0 to more than 200,000 in 1 week and amassed over 2 million likes.

2) Makes other claims more believable

Car rental firm Avis, embraced their second-best status - “When you’re only number two you try harder.” to avoid competition with brand leader Hertz.

Within a year of the campaign launching, Avis made a profit of $1.2m – the first time they had broken even in a decade. The approach was so successful it ran for more than 50 years.

Admitting weakness is a tangible demonstration of honesty and, therefore, makes other claims more believable. The best straplines harness the trade-off effect. By admitting a weakness, a brand credibly establishes a related positive attribute.

3) Overcomes Objections

According to studies published in the Nature Human Behavior journal, when reviews are too positive, it can be challenging for customers to tell the difference between products.

Lemonade Insurance almost 5 stars

The line "too good to be true" makes your audience distrust you. The Insurance Company Lemonade are proud of their Almost 5 stars rating.

Customers will rationalize your negatives and rave about your positives.

4) Humanise and Differentiate your Brand

Heinz Ketchup Limited Bottle

Heinz 57 Ketchup is notoriously slow to come out of the bottle. You need to apply the right amount of force to get it to flow. Instead of ignoring their “fault” Heinz Ketchup celebrates their slowness even telling people to slow down.

They created the “world’s slowest website” taking a full 57 minutes to load and rewarding those who did wait.

They released The Pour-Perfect Bottle, a limited edition glass bottle with an updated label to guide you to the perfect pouring angle.

What do you do exceptionally well? What do you have to compromise on in order to deliver on that strength of yours?

But before you tell your CEO to champion all the company's failures there is a twist to the Pratfall Effect. You need to make sure that you or your products are already positioned as ‘superior’, otherwise your pratfall might have the opposite effect.

Pratfalls are contextual. There is no single right interpretation of how committing a mistake might affect how someone is perceived in public.

If a person or brand is considered smart and capable, committing a small mistake will generally make them more appealing, but, when an average brand or person makes an error or mistake they become less appealing.

VW Lemonade ad

5/ Apologise. In 2019 VW remade its iconic LEMON ad to apologise for its emission scandal and turned the lemon into lemonade. For a brand that is generally viewed as competent an authentic apology allowed them to overcome the negative attention

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