Pratfall Effect

🤔 Did you know…

There was a typo in today’s email preview text.

I wrote “imprefectons” when it should have read “imperfections”.

This was no accident. This may surprise you, but the occasional typo can actually make people like you more. Why? Keep reading…

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Imagine this…

You’re speaking on stage at your very first conference.

The audience will be jam-packed with perspective customers so it’s a BIG opportunity for your business. The pressure is on.

When the big day finally arrives, you’re super nervous. You’ve been practicing for months but you’re still sweating bullets.

Then the moment of truth—they call your name… you step on stage… and…

You kill it!

The audience laughs at your jokes and you hit every talking point perfectly. At the end of your presentation, you get a huge applause.

As you walk proudly off the stage, the unthinkable happens—you trip and fall flat on your face 😭

You’re absolutely humiliated. Months of hard work and now all people will remember from your talk is how clumsy you are.

You hide in the bathroom for 10 minutes feeling sorry for yourself. When you finally emerge, you see a few people standing in the hallway chatting.

You try to sneak past them unnoticed when someone calls your name.

“Amazing talk!” she says. “Would you join us for lunch? I’d love to learn more about your company and how we can work together.”

Another person chimes in, “Me too! You’re so inspiring.”

Are you surprised people still want to talk business after your embarrassing moment?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy 🧠 we’ll explore the Pratfall Effect – why imperfections can actually make people like you (or your brand) more.

Let’s get into it…

The Psychology of the Pratfall Effect 🧠

Admitting imperfections can be oddly appealing.

In 1966, researcher Elliot Aronson first discovered this with a study involving spilt coffee. An actor was filmed answering quiz questions. After answering, the actor then spilt his coffee down himself. Turns out, viewers rated him as more likeable when he spilt the coffee.

It may be surprising but research shows admitting mistakes or imperfections can make us more likable, not less.

This is true of people, products, and brands. According to studies by consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier, people prefer ‘imperfect” cookies:

There’s an important caveat though:

The Pratfall Effect only works if the person in question (or brand) is already seen as skillful or an above-average performer.

There’s a difference between admitting the odd mistake and perpetually messing up. The first one makes you more relatable while the latter makes you appear incompetent.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

People want to buy from people. And people are far from perfect.

While they may not realize it, your customers may sometimes prefer flaws over perfection.

This works when we evaluate other people—like in a job interview—and it works for products too.

Smart advertisers know that flaunting your flaws can actually drive more sales.

Buckley’s cough syrup is a famous example:

Flaws humanize brands and products, which can make people like them even more.

How To Apply This 🤑

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

Retail & Hospitality

Turn mistakes into moments of delight

Every business messes up from time to time. Usually when businesses make a mistake, they try to sweep it under the rug. You can stand out by turning mess-ups into moments of surprise and delight.

For instance, in 2018 KFC ran out of chicken in the UK. Rather than putting out a boring statement and making excuses, they owned the mistake with this funny ad campaign.

You don’t need to take out a full-page ad like KFC after making a mistake though. A simple apology and promise to correct the mistake goes a long way.


Use relatable people in your marketing and ads

The average woman in the US is a size 16. Yet nearly every clothing ad features supermodels that have been heavily Photoshopped.

Aerie, a lingerie brand, broke the mould when they committed to only featuring real women in their ads with no photo editing.

Embrace delegation

Aerie’s sales soared by an incredible 32% in the quarter following the launch of their no-retouching policy.

Media & Education

Turn your “flaws” into features and overcome skepticism

The online education space is full of grifters grandiose promises. Everywhere you look there’s another person promising to help you “make $10k in 30 days” or “get 100K followers on LinkedIn fast so you can quit your 9-5!”

If you’re anything like me, you probably roll your eyes when you see messages like this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

CXL recognized that when it came to online courses, many marketers were sick of over-the-top promises.

They created ads flaunting 1-star reviews from students who said CXL’s program was “too difficult”.

This unexpected ad leaned into the Pratfall Effect, making it un-ignorable.

Service Businesses

Show the behind-the-scenes of your life/business

You have a “personal brand” (whether you like it or not). Your personal brand is simply what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

You should be thoughtful about what you put out into the world. Sharing wins or customer success stories may make you feel great, but don’t overdo it.

People know business is messy. Share a mix of relatable stories AND aspirational stories. Here are some examples:

Embrace delegation

The aspirational posts help boost your credibility. While the relatable posts make you more likeable and make people more likely to want to work with you.

The Short of It 💥

People appreciate realness. And we’re very aware that nobody is perfect.

Ask yourself, what flaws does your brand have and how can you use them to make your brand or product more relatable?

Imperfection can be a selling point.

That said, there’s a difference between small imperfections and incompetence or messy mistakes. Don’t overdo it.

Until next time, happy selling.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

No one is perfect.

Sometimes imperfections can make people and brands more likable.

Smart advertisers know that flaunting your flaws can humanize your brand and actually drive more sales.

Buckley’s cough syrup is a famous example:

CC: @katebour

Tweet this now > 



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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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