I once worked for a public seminar company
that included likability on the list of items on
which to rate the speaker. Turns out, higher
speaker and course ratings correlated with
higher likability scores.
It’s not surprising that if we like someone we
meet in person, we are more positive toward what
that person does. The wonderful book Influence by
Robert B. Cialdini cites harnessing the power of liking
as one of the top methods to influence behavior
and thinking. In this column, let’s apply his findings
to the visual choices we can make in marketing to
employ those potent likability factors.
I like you.
We like good-looking people. I know you know
that. But tons of research demonstrates that we also
attribute favorable traits to good-looking individuals.
We automatically and unconsciously assume
attractive people are talented, kind, honest, intelligent
… and believable. Research on hiring, politics,
and jury outcomes—to list just a few studies confi
rming this practice—point to our susceptibility to
A classic marketing study showed that men
who saw a new car advertisement with a seductive
female rated the vehicle as faster and better designed
than men who saw the same ad without the beautiful
model. And … the male participants refused to
believe they were influenced when they were told the
results of the study! But women should not rest on
their virtue. Men and women are equally swayed by
We’re suckers for cute. It appears we’re hardwired
to react positively to attributes of cuteness.
That cute panda you’re cooing over would probably
maul you if you got between him and his bamboo
lunch. That cuddly penguin may be waddling to
conserve energy, but you find it adorable. There is
a big list of “cute cues” that we respond to, most of
which are common to human babies and toddlers
(except for the fuzzy fur), which explains why we
love cute so much.
The marketing lesson is that physical attractiveness
and cuteness have a huge halo effect in marketing
You’re like me.
We like people like ourselves. If we want people to
like our marketing efforts, appealing to “alikeness”
can go a long way.
We are more likely to help people like ourselves.
We are more likely to respond positively to a request
from people like ourselves. We are more likely to buy
from a car salesperson who claims to be like us. And
we all think we are more immune to this aspect of
likability than we probably are.
This “liking of alikeness” is the underlying
power of using groups of people that resemble your
target market in photos, emphasizing aspects of dress
that are recognizable icons, matching body postures
that are definitive, or graphically highlighting the
verbal style of the audience. These are all signals of
similarity, and similarity is something we like.
You like me.
We like to be liked. Many studies show that we
tend to believe praise, even when we suspect that it’s
probably untrue. Flattery and compliments, even
when we know someone wants something from us,
cause us to like the flatterer and compliment-giver in
return (i.e., How could they be wrong?!?). And liking
the messenger causes us to be more receptive to
JetBlue is on to the likability factor. The tagline
in their ads is, “We like you, too!” You can even hear
a song and watch a little movie about “you”.
The trick is to translate that inclination into
visual appeal. Showing a high-end luxury item and
calling it “your dream whatever” implicitly compliments
the viewer’s choice. Then there’s the classic
“Man in the Hathaway” shirt ad created by David
Ogilvy, wherein the Hathaway man was a debonair
fellow with an eye patch. This ad was a wild success,
and Hathaway attributed tripled revenues to it. Why?
The man was attractive, certainly, but the real draw
was snob appeal that translated into flattery of the
shirt buyer’s choice.
If you eat the food of kings, you must be a king.
If you drink the drink of alluring women, you must
be an alluring woman. You get it.
I like it.
We like familiarity. Repetition and increased contact
with something usually facilitate familiarity and
therefore liking the subject in question. But you also
need positive association.
Pleasant experiences/things/people can lend
their likable qualities to almost anything in the wonderful
world of marketing. Think of sports and all
the things sports lend their appeal to.
You can make your product or service more
familiar and therefore likable by making positive
analogies or allusions, depicting positive outcomes, or
using popular celebrities. We even tend to associate
our credit cards with the good things we can get at
the moment we want something, which is why placing
credit card logos on an order form can increase
spending on everything from a charity contribution
to a catalog order.
Create waves of lust.
Direct marketing author and speaker Seth Godin
recently asked on his blog, “Is marketing the art of
tricking people into buying stuff they don’t need?
Or should we be thinking about it as spreading
ideas that people fall in love with?” (See the link
in “Recommended resources”.) And Andy
Grove once said his marketing goal is to “create
waves of lust” for Intel products. I like that as a goal.
Likability is a tool. It’s up to us how we put it to
use. Sell your story with this equation:
Increased Likability = Increased Likelihood of Response.
SIDEBAR: The cuteness factor
“The human cuteness
detector is set at such
a low bar, researchers
say, that it sweeps
in and deems cute
a human baby or a
part thereof, and so
ends up including
the young of virtually
birds like Japanese
cranes, woolly bear
caterpillars, a bobbing
balloon, a big
round rock stacked on
a smaller rock, and a
colon, a hyphen, and
a closed parenthesis
typed in succession.
pitching, cute can
help. A recent study
at the Veterans Affairs
Medical Center at the
University of Michigan
showed that high
school students were
far more likely to
by cute cartoon
characters like a penguin
in a red jacket or
a smirking polar bear
than when the warnings
—“The Cute Factor,”
by Natalie Angier,
The New York Times,
January 3, 2006
Seth Godin’s Blog
You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery, by Richard
Stengel, $14, Simon & Schuster
All Marketers Are
Liars: The Power of
Stories in a Low-Trust
World, by Seth Godin,
$23.95, Portfolio www.bn.com