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  • Marc in Madison

Social Proof: Ad-rewrite and Paper

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

This was written for CAS 832: Strategic Message Development in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.

Top (original ad). Bottom (my social proof redesign). Adding a line of people creates a "Wisdom of the Crowds" effect, blended with a little FOMO (fear of missing out).

Short Cuts: Social Proof at the Barbershop


Everybody knows that celebrity endorsements are effective—all of the psychologists agree. Seventy percent of consumers check product reviews before purchasing items, and eighty-eight percent of them trust these reviews enough to make a purchase (Hallen, 2014; Bernazzani, 2019). Placing logos on B2B and B2C websites can boost conversions by up to four-hundred-percent (Jackson, 2018). Experts all know that media logos add gravitas.

These examples are not subtle.

But they explain the concept known as social proof (SP)—a psychological “weapon of influence” that states people conform to the actions and the thoughts of others because they view these behaviors as “correct” (Cialdini, 2014, p.116; Bernazzani, 2019). SP creates intellectual justification of a physical manifestation. Thus, if everyone else is doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. The purpose of this paper is to style a barbershop advertisement (Appendix A) into a SP makeover (Appendix B).

Social Proof: Theory

The actions of people around us define what is normal; subsequently, people maintain status quo (and make fewer “mistakes”) by acting in accordance with those around them (Cialdini, 2014, p.116). SP leads to an almost mechanical devotion and becomes a self-fulfilling concept: the greater the number of people who find an idea correct, the more the idea becomes correct (Cialdini, 2014). This departure from self-evaluation stems from a desire for “shortcuts”—reacting automatically based on partial evidence (Cialdini, 2014, p. 117). SP often links with advertising, but it can prove malicious in culture and in society.

Consider the “pluralistic ignorance” at play when bystanders refuse to help a sidewalk attack victim or the blind devotion of cult members (Cialdini, 2014, p. 129). One who makes a decision based on what he or she reads, sees, or hears—or cites sources in academic writing—is participating in SP.

Social Proof: Practice

In advertising, SP nudges consumers to adapt their purchase behaviors based on what they perceive to be truthful (Bernazzani, 2019). SP appeals to personality and to hubris: subconsciously, people tend to believe the endorsements of those who are similar or resemble like traits—a concept known as “implicit egotism” (Cialdini, 2014; Hallen, 2014).

Applications include: expert stamp of approval; celebrity endorsement; user proof; awards and recognition; media coverage; ratings; “wisdom of the crowds” (WotC); and “wisdom of your friends” (WoYF) (Bernazzani, 2019, p. 13; Hallen, 2014, p. 27; Jackson, 2018).

Creating a Buzz at Universal Barbershop

I sharpened my SP skills with a WotC technique, applied to an ad for Universal Barber Shop in Edmonton, Alberta. I found an ad that was concise, bold, and irreverent. A barber sits in his chair, arms crossed, and states “your appointment is whenever you walk through the damn door.” To ramp up the SP, I added an image below of customers in line waiting to enter a building. Matching the sepia tone and feel, and adding the phone number, I hoped to connect the re-write as a continuation of the original.

The barber is looking to his right at the shop window, and the inference is that the line of people outside are waiting to enter. There is symmetry between the barber’s right-look, and the dominant person in line looking to the left.

WotC states that if that many people are waiting, then the business must be worth the experience. When a crowd is using a service, others want to follow (Bernazzani, 2019). To parallel the “implicit egotism,” I chose an ad with a similar demographic (men in their twenties and thirties). There is a mother and her child in the ad, also, which adds a maternal endorsement also. WotC activates “FOMO,” or fear of missing out (Hallen, 2014). Sapadin (2018) describes FOMO as an anxiety-producing experience wherein people constantly monitor others’ digital and physical actions, fearing they are not in the loop or they are the “last to know” about a topic.

To see a long line of people outside this barbershop is to wonder “what am I missing?” Additionally, there is a WoYF aspect. In the bottom image, a man is on his phone. The ad could spawn another version where it appears this customer is posting about the barbershop. Finally, this barber could take a little off the top and trim the ad to include just the line of people—tagging customers or better yet, staging and tagging a local celebrity or social media influencer.


Social pressure produces social compliance (Cialdini, 2014). People do not need to think if the masses have already formed an opinion. There is implicit value in opinion and perception (Hallen, 2014). The bartender “salts” his tips, thus the customer believes the jammed jar must imply excellence (Cialdini, 2014, p. 117). Or in this re-write, a barber telegraphs ideas of buy-in, exclusivity, reputation, and membership to a targeted age demographic. People allow themselves the luxury of limited thought based on observation. Advertisers capitalize on this abbreviated decision-making process every day and in every industry. Thus, shortcuts often become a long con. Canned laughter, country club waiting lists, and McDonald’s “Billions and Billions Served” boasts are but few examples of consumer influence. The “proof” is out there. Cialdini (2014) himself employs SP: this pull-quote endorsement can be found on the cover of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

“For marketers, it is among the most important books written in the last 10 years.”

Journal of Marketing Research

Hey, if the author uses SP, then it must be effective.



Bernazzani, S. (2019, May 23). 20 examples of social proof in 2019. Retrieved from

Cialdini, R.B. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York, NY: Harper Business.

Hallen, E. (2014, May 6). How to use the psychology of social proof to your advantage. Retrieved from

Jackson, D (2018, May 29). Social proof: How to use marketing psychology to boost conversions. Retrieved from

Sapadin, L. (2018, July 8). Fear of missing out. Retrieved from

#StrategicCommunication #Marketing #Advertising #RobertCialdini #Persuasion #ThePsychologyofPersuasion #MichiganStateUniversity #MSUStratCom #GradSchool #GradStudent #Journalism #MarketingMarc #GraphicDesign #AdobeInDesign #Barbershop #BarbershopAd

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