Does making mistakes make you more attractive?

When Jennifer Lawrence famously fell over on the stairs at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony after winning the prize for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, there was a chorus of approval. The drop-dead gorgeous, outrageously talented Lawrence isn’t perfect? Even greater reason to love her: the Oscars slip-up became a talking point, part of Hollywood folklore, and Lawrence’s career skyrocketed.

Take another example of it all going wrong on the night – one from these troubled times.

Few will remember the details of every row over the Government’s handling of test and trace or A-level results during the pandemic. But television news audiences are likely to recall the moment when *another* interview with an expert was lightened by the gloriously unscripted intervention of her daughter.

(Actually, maybe this is our antidote to video call fatigue: work with kids and unicorns.)

Hey! We messed up…

From Lawrence’s trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s sweary mea culpa when it ran out of er, chicken – we tend to look favourably on people and brands with the ability to laugh at themselves. It’s down to a phenomenon called the Pratfall Effect. If you show and admit you’ve FCKed up, it can be endearing. For businesses, as well as people.

It’s understandable really, because often perfection can seem intimidating, cold – even dishonest. Brands that display customer reviews with less than ‘five-star’ ratings on their websites actually tend to make higher sales than those presenting flawless user experiences to the world. Hit that link and you’ll see it’s not 5-star businesses that have the biggest sales, it’s the 4.2s.

In having the confidence to own up to their mistakes and show their human side, we find ourselves liking and trusting them even more.

(Just bear in mind: while a light-hearted pratfall works wonders with people we already think of as competent, the opposite is the case with people we already view more negatively. So it’s important to make sure you’re on top of your game before you show off your latest howlers.)

Seeking: Brand with great sense of humour

In digital marketing, as in online matchmaking, a GSOH stands you a better chance of being remembered. That’s especially true if you can pull it off in the staid world of B2B. Cracking a joke (not to mention adding a celeb into the mix) has created some memorable business-to-business campaigns even when the subject matter is distinctly unfunny. (Think of HP’s slick and darkly comic Christian-Slater-fronted ‘lambs to the slaughter’ take on the perils of printers and corporate cybercrime. Or Spoon client, Volvo Trucks’, ‘Epic Split’ ad.)

The effects of humour are more powerful than merely sticking in the memory too: to be amused is also to be motivated. Researchers have found that individuals are more likely to persist with a task that might otherwise prove fatiguing or frustrating if they are exposed to things they find funny. That’s why making your meetings entertaining is a seriously good idea, and organisations often experience productivity gains from creating a more enjoyable working culture for their employees.

A lighter, more playful tone of voice can be a great expression of your culture too. Business-to-business firms that do this well – MailChimp and Slack are good examples – come across as human, fun and approachable: companies you’d like to hook up with. Or think of Cisco Systems – proud purveyors of servers and network infrastructure – getting in on the act with this tongue-firmly-in-cheek rom-com.

We like to laugh, and we love to be around people that can make us smile. Incorporate some humour into your tone, culture and campaigns, and you’re not only more likely to be remembered – you’ll be perceived as a great business to develop a long-term relationship with too.

Want to use the latest insights from behavioural science to freshen up your tone of voice and deliver marketing campaigns with real impact? Get in touch.

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