Pratfall Effect: How flaws can make a brand more attractive

Perfection is a high bar, and it may surprise you to learn that not everyone is aiming for it.

Imperfections can add character, even attractiveness, and the ‘Pratfall Effect’ describes how flaws make a brand more appealing.

In an original piece of research, two examples of the same film were shown. In one, a man appears to answer some amazingly difficult questions.

In the second, everything is identical, except at the end of the questions the man spills a cup of coffee all over himself.

Viewers of the second version, with the clumsy intervention, gave the man a much higher rating on traits like attractiveness and likeability. This is the ‘Pratfall Effect’.

There are many famous examples of how accentuating the negative can build brands.

The marketing of the VW Beetle by DDB in the 1950s and 1960s has passed into advertising legend. This odd little car was the antithesis of what American consumers wanted. It was small, looked strange, and came from Germany, until recently the enemy on the battlefield.

The campaigns used those negatives to grab attention. One ad featured the car and the title ‘Lemon’. The inspired copy lines below unpicked what was going on and gently turned the negatives into positives – the car is a ‘lemon’ because it failed the exacting standards for paint.

Another approach by the same agency worked wonders for car rental firm Avis, embracing second-best status to avoid competition with brand leader Hertz. “We’re #2 so try harder” read the enduring line.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the original experiments that uncovered the Pratfall Effect focused on individuals rather than brands. A quick look at certain mop-haired politicians will show you how playing the buffoon has worked wonders for some, and allowed them to reach high office and great influence in public life.

You can learn more about the Pratfall Effect and similar consumer behaviours in our new IDM Certificate in Behavioural Economics.

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