The pratfall effect is a consumer bias discovered by psychologist Elliot Aronson.

The jist of it is that people like people who demonstrate a flaw more than those who seem perfect.

The experiment involved Aronson showing students two versions (one version per group of students) of an actor playing a contestant in a quiz – in one he answered 92% of the questions correctly. In the other he did the same, but made a goof and spilled coffee all over himself.

Students were asked how likable the contestant was – the clumsy coffee spilling version came out the winner.

For brands and businesses, showing a flaw or a weakness can be turned into a strength.

Customers are largely sceptical about brands anyway and don’t really believe that they are perfect. If a brand talks about a weakness that does not affect the core offering to the consumer it can make that brand more credible and trusted.

Famous examples include Guinness advertising the fact that it takes ages to get a pint with “Good things come to those who wait” and Burger King’s mouldy burger ad to show that their food goes off because there are no preservatives used. Airlines flip what is perceived as a weakness – no frills –  into a mirror strength – cheap flights. 

Brands that make mistakes, like Volkswagen’s emissions debacle, can come back from them to become even more trusted. This was possible because of the vast body of great brand marketing they have done before the scandal and how they doubled up on that afterwards. They quickly admitted to the mistake and creating tangible ways to make the brand even more reliable than before, such as introducing their 72,000 mile warranties.

It is far better for a brand to come out and talk about their own flaw, weakness or mistake first, rather than be found out about.

Usually the consumer knows and is talking about your weakness before you. This is why consumer research is so very important. Find out what the customer thinks, figure out how a weakness can deliver a strength and use it to market your brand.  

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