The Pratfall effect, Guinness advertising & branding

Episode 01 Beer, surfing, and blunders

As Guinness looked to expand globally outside of the UK, it had a product
differentiation that could have been seen as a real problem. This episode explores the
Pratfall Effect, and how brands can leverage a perceived flaw and turn it into a
powerful brand attribute.

00:00 / 15:08

Episode Transcript

  • MichaelAaron: So welcome to Behavioral Science for Brands. Today we're talking beer, surfing and blunders. We're gonna dive in to Guinness. And look at one of their most famous advertising campaigns. Good things come to those who wait. I'm MichaelAaron Flicker, president of XenoPsi co-founder of the Consumer Behavior Lab and a behavioral science enthusiast. Who are you?
  • Richard: Uh, I'm Richard Shotton, so the other co-founder of the Paper Science Lab and founder of the company Astroten.
  • MichaelAaron: Well, welcome to episode one, season one of Behavioral Science for Brands. Our first episode, we're diving into decoding Guinness's best advertising campaign. But before we get into it, let's take a step back. Behavioral science as an academic field of study. Why is it important?
  • Richard: So it's, it's a great topic for advertisers because it is hugely relevant to what they do and what most marketers are trying to do.
  • Richard: Get people to pay more for their products. Switch from a competitor brand, buy more of their brands. Now, all of these questions are questions of behavior change. So every single one of us who works in marketing, we are all in the business of behavior change and all behavioral sciences is a catalog of effective insights into what makes for powerful behavior change.
  • Richard: So if you are working in marketing, this is a field you really need to be using.
  • MichaelAaron: and I've always felt that the challenge of being an effective marketer is how do you make sure the work works in market?
  • Richard: The great thing about behavioral science is it's not based on someone's intuition or their, their gut feeling.
  • Richard: It is based on peer reviewed, observe evidence so you can give these findings genuine credibility
  • MichaelAaron: and the benefit. Is that it's repeatable. So if you use the academics to really understand what's motivating human behavior, then you can count on it being something that you can use over and over again.
  • Richard: Yes, you're stacking the odds in your favor. Yeah. You've got this evidence from respected scientists. You can take that evidence and apply, and I think it boosts the probability of success. Doesn't guarantee success. I would think that would be too far, but it definitely boosts the probability.
  • MichaelAaron: So if you're a brand marketer, the benefit is that you have some science and data to help give confidence to the decisions you're making.
  • MichaelAaron: Yeah. And if you are an agency marketer, it helps give a frame for your clients to make a decision within. Whether you're on the brand marketing side or on the agency marketing side, it has a real benefit, um, for everybody involved.
  • Richard: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's not just for agency or just for brand. This is a set of broad insights into human nature.
  • Richard: So if you're trying to influence people, then this is relevant.
  • MichaelAaron: And something you've said in the past that it was always so evocative to me is that it's not that there wasn't behavioral science happening before this became an academic. Okay. Can you talk a little bit about that?
  • Richard: Yeah. Well, there's a couple of things there.
  • Richard: Firstly, behavioral science is not a new term, but actually I think it's bit of a rebrand for what we used to call social psychology and social psychology. The first experiments were back in the 1890s, so people like Hermann Ebbinghaus house were. Running experiments on, on memory. So it is a very long standing field, but I think you are right.
  • Richard: Even if people haven't necessarily known about some of these studies, some of the best creatives have drawn on these insights because behavioral science isn't an invention. It's a description of what. Motivates people. What, what, what influences them, what persuades them? So I think you can get to these ideas by being a brilliant observer of human nature without any kind of academic background, but all behavioral science that is, is catalog these insights and make it much, much easier for the rest of us to harness these ideas.
  • MichaelAaron: So Guinness? Yeah. One of the most famous beer brands internationally has a challenge when it comes to America and they're breaking into the US market, and the product itself has a differentiation that could be seen as a real problem. You go to a pub, you order Guinness, maybe I order Guinness. You order a different beer
  • MichaelAaron: Uh, the bartender pours both at the same time. You're drinking your beer in 10 seconds. And I'm waiting a minute, a minute and a half for the foam to go down and to actually be able to take my first sip. Do you address this as a marketer or not? Yeah. Do you bring this thing to light that everyone who's ever ordered Guinness knows?
  • MichaelAaron: Yeah. How do you bring it to light in the right way? So we're gonna dive into this, uh, really effective campaign made by who?
  • Richard: Uh, AMV.
  • MichaelAaron: AMV and they come up with an idea. Good things come to those who wait. So for those of you who are just listening at home, let us describe the ad for you. You have a surfer looking at the ocean, and he's looking for the right wave.
  • MichaelAaron: And he's searching for the moment to jump in and really ride the wave. And it's shot in 1999, but it's in black and white and it's grainy. And what you feel is the intensity of the surfer searching along the waves and the point. Of the spot is that good things come to those who wait. Yeah.
  • MichaelAaron: Right. If you see the right wave, one great wave is better than being out all day and taking a lot of mediocre waves. And then the, they equate that too. The time it takes for the foam to settle on a Guinness beer. I love that. Yeah. Great.
  • Richard: A great,
  • MichaelAaron: it's a great ad. And for an alcohol brand to not show the product until the last 10 seconds.
  • MichaelAaron: Five seconds of the spot is so powerful.
  • Richard: Yes. Yes.
  • MichaelAaron: It's so powerful. So they have this idea that they're really going to dive into this thing that everybody knows, but what's going on here? What's the behavioral science behind taking something that everybody knows but maybe is not seen as a. Yeah,
  • Richard: I think what's interesting about this is they take a flaw and they put it front and center of the ad.
  • Richard: That sounds a little bit illogical, but there's a lot of behavioral science evidence. That's a very powerful tactic. So the evidence comes from a Harvard psychologist, Elliot Aronson, back in 1966. He runs this classic experiment. He recruits a colleague, gets the colleague to take part in a quiz. He gives the colleague all the answers.
  • Richard: So this guy does amazingly well, gets 92% of the questions right, wins the quiz by miles. Looks like a genius, but then as the quiz finishes, he makes what Americans might call a pratfall, what we and Britain might call a small blunder, and he spills a cup of coffee down himself. Aronson has recorded all of that.
  • Richard: He takes that recording and then he plays its listeners, and sometimes he plays the entire clip. So great performance and spillage. Sometimes he just plays the great performance, so he edits out the spillage. He then asks all those that listened to feedback on what they think of the contestant and his key finding is the contestant.
  • Richard: It's seen as significantly, we were talking about 40% here, significantly more appealing if people have heard the spillage as well as the great performance. So his argument is we prefer people or products who exhibit a flaw, and he calls it the Pratfall effect.
  • MichaelAaron: So let's take a quick break from our sponsors and when we're back, we're gonna dive into really what's behind the Pratfall effect.
  • MichaelAaron: Behavioral science for brands is brought to you today by Method 1. Method 1 builds digital first marketing systems to help brands grow their behavior, change. Experts who solve business challenges by creating meaningful connections with consumers, with deep disciplines in many brand categories.
  • MichaelAaron: Reach out to them if you'd like to be leveraging behavioral science in your marketing or advertising. Okay, we're back.
  • Richard: Now Guinness are using that. They are emphasizing the flaw of slowness of waiting. But actually if you think about most of the greats or a lot of the great ads, Avis, we are number two.
  • Richard: We try harder. VW ugly is only skin and this principle, but admitting a flaw comes up again and again. And I think why it's done is three big reasons that most ads go out there and. . And so if you admit a flaw, you are certainly distinctive and that makes you memorable. That makes you noticeable. Above and beyond that if you admit a flaw, you're proving your honesty.
  • Richard: And if you say that you are slow or that you're ugly or, or that you're not very popular, you've proven tangibly your honesty. And then anything else you say is a bit more believable. And then the final strength, the really clever bit, the thing that Guinness do so well is they don't just go out and pick any old flaw.
  • Richard: they have picked a flaw that emphasizes their core strength. Now, if you know something's taken a long time, the assumption is, well, it's probably very high quality. So if you admit that flaw of slowness, what you're essentially doing is proving your core strength of high quality now, and that's what markets had to do.
  • Richard: Don't just pick any off flaw. Think deeply about what your core strength is, and then is there a weakness that you can admit and might emphasize that?
  • MichaelAaron: And the, the agency AMV who does this? Walter Campbell is talking about this years later. Yeah. And he says that he was looking at his buddies in the pub while they're waiting for the beer.
  • MichaelAaron: To settle and he says it's in that moment that I see. There's anticipation. Yeah. There's desire. It's a moment that doesn't happen with other beers. So not only do they reveal that they're revealing a natural thing that it takes time to get it. Yeah. But he's conning in on an emotional moment that people feel while they're waiting for the beer to settle.
  • Richard: Well, interesting you say the word reveal. I think what's fascinating about Guiness is anyone who's ever drank a pint, anyone who's been in a pub, for someone who's drank a pint right? You've gotta wait for it. It's not like they're giving people new news about this flaw. They're telling people something they already know, but by leaning into it, emphasizing it, they're getting the benefit of that flaw.
  • Richard: So brands might wanna think about, well, what problem might our customers already know? Maybe we are a coffee syrup buckleys, that tastes awful. Well why not emphasize that and get the benefit of perceived efficacy? Or maybe you're super expensive. There could be an argument from the pratfall effect to emphasize that, because again, people will think that if you're that expensive, you must be high quality. Mm-hmm.
  • MichaelAaron: And there's something of a confirmation bias when I hear something from the brand that I already know to be true. That's part of what you're saying is more believable?
  • Richard: Yeah. I, I think, um, for me it's putting marks nerves at rest. You don't have to go and give additional negative information to Conceiver.
  • Richard: It might just be repeating back something they already know. And at least that you benefit from the flip side of that negative rather than just suffering from it.
  • MichaelAaron: So this is 1999. Guinness runs this ad. It's highly, highly successful, accredited with a 12% increase in sales because of this. And they actually reprise it in 2020.
  • MichaelAaron: Yeah. With Joe Montana. Yeah. And they do a new version of the ad with again, saying good things come to those. In 2015, Northwestern University does a study and they look at 110,000 products across 22 categories, and what they're looking at is product reviews, and they're asking themselves five stars. Is that the most likely thing?
  • MichaelAaron: Mm-hmm. , that's gonna increase. And what they find is a perfect, uh, five star reviews with no detractors. Not nearly as successful as somebody who's got 4.2 to 4.5 stars. Is it's a, this is a similar thing.
  • Richard: Yeah. Yeah. Absolute. Same thing. I think it's, again, this idea that, um, perfection is, it's unbelievable.
  • Richard: You know, in the example of Northwestern, you know what's more likely if you come across a product and it's five stars? Is it really gonna be a perfect product with no flaws, or is it more likely that the brand has been playing fast and loose with reviews and maybe stuffing it full of her favorable ones?
  • MichaelAaron: Right?
  • Richard: So if you go out and pretend your products is perfect, people don't believe that. They just think there is a flaw. I just dunno where it is. And the danger is the consumer might think that flaw lies somewhere important, so better to admit a slightly inconsequential flaw, and therefore you can put your customer's mind more at ease.
  • MichaelAaron: Very cool. So let's wrap it up for everybody. Yeah. So we have this idea of the pratfall effect. Yep. And, uh, it tells us what,
  • Richard: it tells us that there is a benefit in being open about flaws, about your brand. That if you admit a flaw, you'll become more believable. You'll stand out from other brands and you'll be trusted.
  • Richard: So it's a tactic that more people should at least consider and be confident. There's an awful lot of evidence that it will be effective.
  • MichaelAaron: And then the pro move. If you're gonna use the Pratfall Effect is to choose a flaw.
  • Richard: That's exactly right. Yeah. The pro move is to choose a flaw that emphasizes your strength. because in many cultures, flaws and strengths are two sides at the same coin.
  • Richard: You know, you admit high price, people assume you are high quality. You admit your slow, they assume you're high quality. You admit you taste bad. Your medicine, they'll think that you're effective. So yeah, think carefully about what flaw you.
  • MichaelAaron: Well, thanks for a great first episode, Richard. Excited to be back again.
  • MichaelAaron: We have more great brands that we're gonna dive into revealing the behavioral science behind the brands and really diving deep so that we're giving marketers, advertisers, those that are in the business of building brands, the science behind what's effective. If you liked what you heard, please give us a good rating and review and be sure to come back for our next discussion.
  • MichaelAaron: Until next time, I'm MichaelAaron Flicker.
  • Richard: And I'm Richard Shotton.
  • MichaelAaron: Have a great week.

Episode Highlights

We are all in the business of
behavior change

Behavioral science is simply a catalog of
effective insights into what makes a powerful
change of behavior.

Good things come to those
who wait

Guinness takes a perceived flaw and puts it
front and center. While it sounds illogical,
there is significant behavioral science evidence
that proves this is a powerful tactic.

Being perfect doesn't always lead
to success

Northwestern University conducts a study that
shows how in the eyes of a consumer, a brand
that touts perfection can actually be seen as
not believable.