Imagine that you have heard about a new restaurant, but before you try it, you decide to check out the online reviews. Although the vast majority of the reviews are positive, there are mentions that there isn’t enough convenient parking.
How does this piece of negative information affect your decision to try the restaurant?
… can actually boost an audience’s favourable opinion?
Would it surprise you to learn that small amounts of negative information can boost an audience’s favourable opinion? That was the conclusion of an academic paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
In studies conducted by researchers Danit Ein-Gar, Baba Shiv and Zakary Tormala, it was found that minor negative information can improve a subject’s perception of an item, especially if that “blemish” is encountered AFTER hearing positive information. Three aspects allow small imperfections to produce positive impressions:
- the order the information is presented
- the size of the negative information
- and the attention level someone is devoting to processing this information
You can see this effect in such quick interactions as reading online advertisements. Small imperfections in the offer such as limited colour selection, slight scratches, or minor flaws in the packaging, may boost the desire of someone to purchase. In the restaurant example above, although parking is an important consideration, it is not the central experience of dining in the establishment.
To test their theory, the researchers conducted an online experiment involving the purchase of a pair of hiking boots. Some of the test subjects were told that the boots had the following positive attributes:
- had designer orthopedic soles
- were waterproof
- had extra shoelaces
- and were available in many colors
Other test subjects received the identical information above but were informed that the boots were only available in two colours. This limited selection was intended to be a blemish to the list of otherwise positive attributes.
The researchers also added one other element to the online test. They divided the subjects into two groups. The first group was required to write down how many times they looked away from the screen while reviewing the ad (low processing), while the other group was not required to do this (high processing).
What were the results?
The researchers found that the divided attention group (low processing) had a higher opinion of the boots when they were also presented with some mildly negative information. However, they also found that the group that was solely focused on the purchase of the boots without being distracted were more likely to have a higher opinion if only positive information was encountered. When they did a similar offline study on the purchase of chocolate, the experimenters found similar results.
Why does this happen?
In the low processing group, it is believed that when you encounter small blemishing information AFTER forming an initial positive image, you may not want to invest the time and mental effort to reconsider your first judgment and prefer to refocus on the positive aspects first encountered.
What’s the takeaway?
In low processing situations such as the online ad world, adding a few minor blemishes AFTER someone has formed a favourable impression may BOOST that positive impression even higher! In my personal experience, I have found that admitting to a few minor imperfections to an otherwise perfect offer not only boosts someone’s desire but can also add to the personal credibility of the presenter (i.e. they appear to offer full disclosure).
Here are some typical examples of how this is used:
- A sought-after home contractor could say, “We are looking forward to starting the project with you, but can’t begin until April [3 weeks from now].”
- An appliance dealer selling their TOP OF THE LINE fridges, stoves and dishwashers in a “scuff and dent sale”.
- A retail appliance store salesman demonstrating an expensive food processor states that the unit “is not meant for commercial kitchens.” (no problem, you just wanted to use it for your family meals.)
- Seeing a famous actor in a bloopers reel. Because their acting prowess is already established in your mind, seeing them in a bunch of funny gaffes adds to their likeability.
Highlighting small blemishes in your offer, especially ones that will eventually become apparent, can be a powerful way to establish up-front credibility, increase the attractiveness of the offer, and amplify your ability to persuade!