Just "Like" You: The Liking Technique in Advertising
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
This was written for CAS 832: Strategic Message Development in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
Both simple and powerful, the liking technique (LT) is a form of compliance in which we allow favorable, familiar people and bonds to influence us. People are more likely to respond favorably to people they like (Cialdini, 2014). If we like someone, we are more willing to do what they ask of us (Jacobs, 2017). When we are comfortable with someone, we tend to say yes (Ramsland, 2016). Sympathy, fondness, and approval are powerful motivators commonly used in advertising (models next to a sports car or celebrity endorsements) and in politics (candidates who explain they have the same problems as us). The purpose of this paper is to examine various applications of the LT and apply them to an ad-rewrite for A Plus Test Prep (Appendix A).
Liking: Theory and Practice
Cialdini (2014) uses the example of a Tupperware party to show how familiarity and friendship influence purchases. A participant wouldn’t normally buy Tupperware items, but they do because it’s a friend—and because they don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. Car salesman are trained to “mirror and match” the body posture, mood, and verbal style of potential customers to create familiarity and trust (Cialdini, 2014).
LT can be obvious or covert:
Physical attractiveness: This aspect stimulates an automatic, “click, whirr” response in on a basic level—even more so with the “halo effect,” in which people assign traits such as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence to physically attractive people (Cialdini, 2014, p. 171).
Similarity: If you are at a social function, attendees will likely socialize in groups of people who are like them: parents; graduate students; age groups; professions; personal style; pet people; golfers; teachers; and so on. We like trust people who are similar to us—to our detriment. Some may apply a “veneer of similarity” to manipulate (Cialdini, 2014, p. 174).
Compliments: This concept plays upon the idea that if someone likes us, we are more likely to buy-in to their messages and behaviors (Cialdini, 2014). People tend to believe praise; they are “suckers” for flattery (Cialdini, 2014, p. 175). Marketers use this technique to win the favor of consumers (Cialdini, 2014).
Contact and Cooperation: Things that are familiar intrinsically are more likable (Cialdini, 2014). The more we come into contact with them, the more social influence they wield because frequent exposure increases likeability (Cialdini, 2014). Marketers employ cooperation when they position a product or services as aligning with the consumer as if they are working towards the same goals—teaming with consumers on the same side of a tug-of-war against an external element, metaphorically speaking (Cialdini, 2014). For example, the salesman who “goes to bat” for the customer, by speaking with his manager to negotiate a better price, utilizes LT/cooperation.
Conditioning and Association: Bad news begets bad feelings; we have a natural tendency to dislike people who bring unpleasant news—the nature of which “infects the teller” (Cialdini, 2014, p. 188). Sometimes, this occurs even when the messenger did not cause the situation, but association alone is powerful enough to cause dislike (Cialdini, 2014).
Association is akin to the phrase we are “known by the company we keep” (Cialdini, 2014, 190). Advertisers assume consumers have the same attitudes as their friends; thus, products are positioned (often with celebrities or with influencers) on the bet that similar segments will react similarly (Cialdini, 2014). When one socially “finds their tribe,” he or she internalizes and enjoys the connection to people (celebrities, friends, and family), places (colleges, favorite cities), and things (clothing, cologne, Apple versus Android).
The Liking Technique in the Tutoring Demographic
In my ad re-write, I chose a tutoring company. Physical attractiveness is in effect with the new picture I chose. Everyone is beaming white-tooth smiles. There is similarity in that students who see this ad will relate to the ages and the location (the bricks and blinds suggest it is inside a school). I used the line: “You excel in your best subject” as a compliment and as a positive motivator. A little flattery here might go a long way. We all have our best and worst subjects. Even though one needs a tutor, it doesn’t mean he or she isn’t strong in other subjects. Cooperation plays in this re-write because with the formation, the paperwork, and the postures, it seems clear everyone is working towards the same goal. All three are aligned and on-task. Often, tutors are students themselves, so I used the association technique to position the company as being on the same side as student— “battling” the spectre of bad grades.
I wanted to communicate that the company understands the student point-of-view to reinforce the idea that tutors have the same attitudes and wants as students. We are conditioned to think of the word “homework” as negative, so I included the positive call-to-action of “Let’s get great grades” to flip to a positive outlook.
Cialdini (2014) states that people try to align with positive events and separate themselves from negative events; we purposefully manipulate the visibility of our connection to winners to make ourselves look good. Students could conceivably deflect attention and punishment of poor grades by drafting on the successful, proactive act of hiring a successful tutoring company. Finally, through an aggressive ad campaign, this ad may earn likability as students see it on a regular basis.
Although we live in a digital age, there is much more to “liking” than clicking a button on social media. Favorability is a currency that we spend on those we perceive to be attractive and who similar, silver-tongued, familiar, “on our side,” frequent in our lives, and part of our cliques. Perhaps LT is best evidenced by the award-winning car salesman who sends cards to customers that simply state: “I like you” (Cialdini, 2014).
It turns out, flattery will get you anything.
Cialdini, R.B. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.New York, NY: Harper Business.
Jacobs, C.S. (2017, August 22). The art of persuasion. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/management-rewired/201708/the-art-persusasion
Ramsland, K. (2016, September 16). 6 principles that predators will use against you. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201609/6-principles-predators-will-use-against-you
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