• Mark Hallander

Behavioral Science: The strengths of communicating your flaws

While advertisers are generally seen as untrustworthy, creating authentic, trustworthy communication becomes a different challenge altogether. I look into how we can use flaws to create distinctiveness in our communication.

#behavioralscience #trust #biases


Please don’t screw up...

In marketing, there are several different biases that influence how we buy products. One such bias is known as The Pratfall Effect. In short, The Pratfall Effect means that people who make mistakes are more likable. The theory is based on an experiment where an audience is shown two different presentations.


At the first presentation, the presenter goes through each slide with confidence and delivers an overall flawless experience.


At the second presentation, he does the exact same thing, but at the end of the presentation, he spills coffee all over himself.


Which presentation do you reckon is the most trustworthy?


You guessed it. The one with brown stains of coffee on a white shirt.


And why is that?


As human beings, we want to sympathize. Showing your flaws simply makes you more appealing to an audience. People generally don’t trust perfection, and reminding them that you are human is something that creates a great deal of empathy in your receiver.


For advertisers, this means that there are certain strengths in admitting your flaws. Let’s take an example.


Ugly is only skin deep

In 1959, Volkswagen released a controversial ad for the Beetle that builds on the notion of communicating flaws. The communicative approach used here is very honest and intelligent. VW didn’t just promote a car, they promoted a new kind of advertising. They knew that consumers didn't find it beautifully built, so VW instead admitted that the car was ugly.


For instance, shown in this particular section: “It may not be much to look at. But beneath that humble exterior beats an air-cooled engine.”

However, the German car manufacturer did not pick out this weakness at random. They picked a weakness that had a mirrored strength. The ad shows that VW does not care as much about the design of the car, as they do about the engineering - and this is the added benefit, the mirrored strength, of calling their product ‘ugly’.


The most honest CV, you have ever seen

Another great example is the honest CV by the advertising executive, Jeff Scardino. After having applied for multiple jobs with his regular CV without any luck, Scardino flipped the script and made this eye-catching CV that emphasizes his failures.


It is not every day you see a ”non-skill” section with an honest remark as “Could be more punctual”.


The approach paid off big time, as Jeff Scardino was invited to several job interviews afterward. Why? It was bold, distinctive, and flawed.


How come we don’t see this type of communication more often?

It comes down to a balance between agency and marketer, as the latter is often not as willing to take risks. Understandably the marketing manager is very risk-averse, as their mission is to keep the brand position steady without bringing too much fuss upon themselves. Therefore, they tend to choose conformity and the safe creative option, which can result in less distinctiveness in communication.


You can read more about this topic in my blog post about brand bravery - how we can ignite creativity in advertising.


Why you should communicate flaws anyway

It can be beneficial to communicate your flaws, as we do not see it very often, which means that we can create valuable distinctiveness in the market. And what is distinctive is memorable. Flaws – when communicated right – creates more transparency and trust in your brand.


If you want to read more about the biases that influence consumer decision-making and how we can use this in our marketing, read my blog post about marketing psychology.