Marketing: Turn A Weakness Into An Advantage

It can be tricky to get your marketing right as sometimes trying to be tricky can be your downfall. Richard Shotton in The Choice Factory talks about 'The Pratfall Effect' based on some research at Havard University by a psychologist called Elliott Aronson ...

He filmed an actor answering a series of quiz questions and getting 92% right. At the end, the actor then pretends to spill his coffee over himself. He showed the recording in slightly different formats to a large number of students.

"Where he included the gaffe they were rated higher!"

Those where he included the gaffe with the coffee were rated higher on a likeable scale than those where that part was omitted. He repeated that experiment with the actor only scored 30% right and the coffee spillage then made the actor less likeable than when that accident was omitted.

Aronson's conclusion was, "The Pratfall made the contestants more appealing as it increases his approachability and makes him seem less austere, more human." I'd add that the coffee spillage makes the person seem more human ... more like us. Only scoring 30% might be even more like us, but who wants to be reminded that as well as being clumsy they're not very bright either?

Shotton's take on how to add this effect into your marketing is to admit your product or service has a flaw and turn it into a strength by positioning it in a market that values aspect.

Let's use two examples from Shotton:

- Stella Artois - the tasty lager - 'Reassuringly Expensive' - The National Dairy Council - the high-fat content in cream - 'Naughty But Nice'

Both play to an image of ourselves we can identify with. "I can afford to spend more on high-quality products" and "I'm a bit daring so I can join the gang who breaks the rules ... but not too much"

So, where's the tricky bit? Another truism from Shotton now: This dishing your product works well once your brand is strong on other points, but can be a disaster if your product is weak.

I think that misses the point somewhat. The campaign must never make the customer feel stupid for buying it. What you're doing in your campaign is really giving your customer the ammunition to demonstrate to their friends, and more importantly to themselves, that they are not an idiot for buying this ... just more discerning than others.

Let's look at what happens if you forget the principle that the customer has got to be able to identify with your actors and look good for choosing your product. The most infamous case of getting this wrong was Gerald Ratner who destroyed his high street cut-price jewellery business with a bad joke in a public speech in 1991. "We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your, butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, 'How can you sell this for such a low price?', and I say, 'because it's total crap'!"

He may have thought this a piece of self-denigration, but his customers, at best, thought they were themselves crap to be ripped off, or worse still, that buying Ratner meant you were crap.

"I want to leave you with an advertising campaign from fiction that's funny because it hits a wriggle moment in many of us, especially if we're English!"

That to be good for you it's got to taste awful. H.H. Munroe, writing as Saki before the First World War wrote a short story on the subject that's worth a read in its entirety. Here I précised it into a few sentences to give you the gist. It's about a breakfast cereal manufacturer who, to sell a new product, made it as awful as possible. Then gave it the name Filboid Sludge and marketed it as the food from hell.

"No one would have eaten Filboid Studge as a pleasure, but the grim austerity of its advertisement drove housewives in shoals to the grocer's shop. Once the womenfolk discovered that it was thoroughly unpalatable, their zeal in forcing it on their households knew no bounds."

My message from this short walk through the pitfalls of marketing your weaknesses is that if you wish to poke fun at your product in order to overcome a weakness then take care. Make sure you're poking fun at your product and that the end result is your customers see themselves in a positive light.

Oh, and only spill coffee over yourself when you've got your message at least 90% right!



This week I'm sharing some thoughts on how to turn a weakness into a strength by making sure your customer sees themself in a good light. But poking fun at your product can be tricky stuff and doesn;t always go according to plan I'm sure you 've got favourite examples both for and against such techniques,


"This is the second quotation for this blog post!

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