Blemishing Effect

🤔 Did you know…

In 2018, there was a #chickencrisis?

There was *almost* a total collapse of KFC’s UK operations. Cluck.

Yet KFC hit back with an ‘FCK apology’ that earned a reach of over one billion (and was later announced as Campaign of the Year at the Marketing New Thinking Awards).

Why are we telling you this? Because a blunder might just be your next breakthrough…

Imagine this…

It’s your pal’s birthday.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and you both deserve a night to remember.

You’re on a mission to hunt down the hottest restaurant in town so you jump on Google and get scrolling.

One spot catches your eye.

A solid 5/5 stars. Sounds promising.

You read review after review.


“Hands down the best spot in town.”

“I can’t believe how good it is here.”

Hmmm… this sounds a bit too good to be true, right?

You decide to keep diggin’. You come across a neat little place. 4.6/5 stars.

“I’m still dreaming about that burger. Great service though the food took a little longer than I’d like.”

And you decide that’s the one.

Why do you choose the lower-rated joint over the place with the perfect score?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy 🧠 we’ll explore the Blemishing Effect—why we are more likely to believe positive information when a little negative information is added into the mix.

Let’s get into it.

The Psychology of the Blemishing Effect 🧠

A little bit of negativity can go a long way.

In a 2012 research paper, Stanford professors discovered a peculiar phenomenon: when presenting a product, the addition of a slightly negative feature, such as limited color choice, alongside positive features *weirdly* resulted in a higher likelihood of making a sale compared to showing only all positive features.

In the study, participants were shown hiking boots in two different ways. One group was given all the positive aspects of the boots. The other group was given all the same positive aspects but were introduced to a minor negative, otherwise known as a blemish.

The weird thing? Under the right conditions, this minor blemish made participants 20% more interested in buying the boots.

Yup, you heard right, more interested.

Researchers propose that negatives work to accentuate the positives, in turn making the product or service more desirable to the buyer.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Your prospective customers know one truth: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The takeaway? Don’t pretend your product is flawless. Keep it real.

With 72% of consumers believing that ‘fake reviews’ are a problem, potential buyers are already skeptical. It’s good business to showcase the *strategic* negative every now and then.

But be careful, there is an art to a *mild* negative, you don’t want to accidentally kill your sales by selling yourself short.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?


Use believable claims about your product’s benefits

You wanna look good, but not too good.

Customers are smart—they can smell fakeness a mile off. Write 100% success rate, and customers will run away quicker than you can say BS.

Dr Jart+ (an innovative Korean skincare brand) is winning over customers with their realistic *yet impressive* results.

Media & Education

Highlight your ‘haters’ to show your personality

When you embark on the journey that is creating stuff on the internet, you’re bound to encounter the odd hater.

After all, creating is hard but criticizing is easy.

Comments from haters may make you want to crawl back into bed to hide but don’t be so fast. If you do it right, hater comments can be a perfect Blemish.

Creator Jay Clouse uses negative comments to showcase his less serious side in this Twitter X post.

Highlighting comments like this make Jay relatable, credible and show us (his audience) that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Which makes us like him more!

Retail & Hospitality

Use ‘reverse complaints’ to charm your customers

Not all “bad” things are created equal.

Five Guys are known for their generous portion sizes. Their founder says if people are not complaining there’s too many fries, there’s not enough.

It’s what we’re calling ‘reverse complaints’ (yes we made that up). It’s a little blemish (if you think too many fries is a bad thing) which ultimately ends up making you look good.

If the worst thing buyers are saying is: ‘I’m stuffed I can’t eat anymore’ you’re not doing half bad.

Service Businesses

Make it clear who you sell to (and who you don’t)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to please everybody. But you know that old adage?

‘Try to please everybody and you’ll please nobody.’

That’s why Lianna Patch does something smart with her reviews. She showcases the reviews that tell you (her potential customers) what she’s not (serious and straightforward).

Now to some, that might be off-putting but that’s exactly what it should be. A little blemish. A little personality. A little negative (if you call it that) to showcase what she’s great at – funny copy.

Embrace delegation

The Short of It 💥

Don’t shy away from the ‘human’ elements of your brand.

Buyers know that life isn’t perfect and business isn’t either. Showing a little blemish here and there is good for business.

Until next time, happy selling.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

Perfect is bad business.

Smart marketers know that a little negative does wonders for sales and is good business.

It’s called the Blemishing Effect.

Tweet this now >



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

When you’re ready, there are a few ways we can help:

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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