Fifty percent sure: an uncertain expert is perceived more persuasive?


It’s a common sense that if you try to persuade people of something, you should put it out with confidence. A long line of researches have proved it as well. Price and Stone (2004) found that the finance advisors who expressed high confidence in their forecasts of stock were more frequently chosen, because their customers thought they were more reliable.

Such a phenomenon is congruous with Heuristic-systematic Model (Chaiken & Eagly, 1989), in which source certainty promotes evaluators’ confidence in the source itself, therefore leading to a higher level of perceived credibility.

But is it always the case for judge-advisors systems for marketing? Will consumers always believe in the confident reviewers?

Is it a 100% sure expert who can serve best in an advertisement?

The answer maybe an unanticipated “no”.


Karmarkar and Tormala (2010) presented their opinion contrary to such a common sense. Their research showed that high expertise source expression uncertainty stimulates audiences’ involvement thus it results in a higher perceived credibility.

In their studies, participants were shown some reviews of some restaurants. The reviewer was describes as either a famous food critic or an amateur web-journal writer. His reviews can be either high in certainty or not, for example: “I can confidently give La Scarola Restaurant a rating 4 [out of 5] stars”. Then participants were asked to evaluate how much they like the reviewer and to what extent they think the reviewer is reliable. Results show that the professional food critic giving a not-so-confident rating is perceived as more creditable.

Some existing theory may explain such an effect:

The incongruity between expertise and certainty in source arise consumer’s interest because they do not expect an expert will show unconfidence in what she or he is talking about, which enhances the consumer involvement in evaluation process (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979, 1981). Consumer involvement, in turn, boosts the potential influence of a message, because the more cognitive individual spends on an argument, the more persuasive it trends to be (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979).

Additionally, Karmarkar and Tormala (2010) also believe that kind of pratfall effect can explain their findings. Spilling a cup of coffee can increase the likeliness the person high in competency. The logic is when highly competent people are caught in bad fix, they seem more human and hence more likeable for others (Helmreich, Aronson and LeFan, 1970). In the current context, when expert is not so certain of what she or he is talking about, a consumer may think, “this person is just like me”. Feeling of similarity promotes positive impression, resulting in higher perceived credibility.

The finding of Karmarkar and Tormala (2010) seem valuable for advertising practices, especially for commercial reviews and recommendations. Based on their conclusion, I think, advertisers should take advantages in manipulating the expertise and certainty of their persuading source. Maybe a deliberate and professional image spokesman is much better than an over-confident advocator.

However, there should be some limitations: when it comes to medical service, it should be always better to show more confidence. Otherwise, what will the customers feel when they see doctors in the advertisement saying “I’m not sure I can make you better at all”?

Pictures from:


Chaiken, S., & Eagly, A. H. (1989). Heuristic and Systematic Information Processing within and. Unintended thought212.

Helmreich, R., Aronson, E., & LeFan, J. (1970). To err is humanizing sometimes: Effects of self-esteem, competence, and a pratfall on interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology16(2), 259.

Karmarkar, U. R., & Tormala, Z. L. (2010). Believe me, I have no idea what I’m talking about: The effects of source certainty on consumer involvement and persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research36(6), 1033-1049.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Schumann, D. (1983). Central and peripheral routes to advertising effectiveness: The moderating role of involvement.Journal of consumer research10(2), 135.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Schumann, D. (1983). Central and peripheral routes to advertising effectiveness: The moderating role of involvement.Journal of consumer research10(2), 135.

Price, P. C., & Stone, E. R. (2004). Intuitive evaluation of likelihood judgment producers: Evidence for a confidence heuristic. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making17(1), 39-57.


Crisis on fire: motivated boycott from consumers

Let’s talk about the most gravely issue about consumer for public relationship managers and marketers:

Consumer Boycott.

From 1970s till now, an ongoing boycott towards Nestlé’s milk products has swirled into an intractable nut straining the nerve of both Nestlé’s senior staff and some politicians. As one of the most famous cases of consumer boycott, the “Nestlé Kills Baby” campaign came from the concern about Nestlé’s negative impact on generalize infants breastfeeding. Then it developed itself into kind of Power Game between giant firm force and social activists.

Over 40 years the fighting has shown no signals to cease.


nestle botcott 


It seems at least some of consumers do refrain from purchase (Pagan, 1986; Sethi, 1994). So which factors nudge consumers into a boycott?

According to Farah and Newman (2010), Apart from the basic moral obligation, there are three factors counting for the predicting consumer boycott: attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behaviour control.

When consumers have a negative attitude for the perceived egregiousness of a firm, they will be more willing to boycott it. Such an attitude-oriented motivation is modified by a benefit-and-cost justification (Klein & Smith, 2004). That is to say, individual makes a weigh-up between what they gain from boycott (such as self-enhancement) and what they lost (such as constrained consumption), before they shape their behaviour from attitudes.

Subjective norms effect, the thought of “I should do what the others do”, also has precipitating impacts on boycott behaviour. For the past years, a lot of people around me have participated in the campaign of boycotting Japanese products in China. Although it’s totally non-sense for me, I did witness how several of my friends got involved just because the norm impacts.


Chinese boycott campaign towards Japanese products

Perceived behavious control refers to consumers’ feeling for whether their boycott is necessary and they can get the resources they need. Take the Nestlé case for example again, the boycott campaign International Nestlé Boycott Committee has always put its persuasion as “you should do so and you will get what you need”.

For example, when a consumer consider whether she or he should take part in the boycott towards Nestlé, her or his decision will be influenced by the considerations as following:

  •   “Nestlé is evil and egregious?”
  •   “There is other better alternative for Nestlé’s products?”
  •   “If I boycott Nestlé, people will regard me as social responsible?”
  •   “My friends/colleagues/neighbours are boycotting Nestlé, so I should join them?”
  •    “I have the ability and source to make a difference?”

However hinders do exist for a consumer to participate in a boycott towards brands, both in positive and passive ways.

The positive hinders includes loyalty and preference to the boycotted product (John & Klein, 2003). Apple’s iProducts have faced with many boycotts for the environmental issues and its sweat factories in Asian. But none of these boycott ever turned into a big-scale one, because of their consumers’ religious preference and loyalty.

For the passive hinders, free rider and small agent effects are most obvious for such a collective activity (Hardin, 1968; Klein & Smith, 2004). Namely, when people think they need not or cannot make a difference, they will be much less possible to boycott a product or brand. Some of the consumers will think that they need not to put a finger in the mess and others will take care of all that. Besides, consumer may feel that individual lack the ability to make a difference.


Free rider effect

Hence to deal a consumer boycott, I think the PR staff should make effort on two aspects: for one thing, the products should be promoted as irreplaceable, as to increase the counterargument for a boycott; for another, the firm faced by a boycott should show their persistence while making explanation to increase the small-agent effect.

However, what carries more significance is that a brand should make its pre-investment on improving its image on social responsibility. This can be useful to influence consumers’ attitudes and loyalty.

Boycott, in many ways seems to be a result of the conflicting interest between public good and firm’s profit. However, in my perspective, the root of boycott is the gap between ideal social ideology and the realistic social impact from a brand or a product. Just look into the following animation:



Farah, M. F., & Newman, A. J. (2010). Exploring consumer boycott intelligence using a socio-cognitive approach. Journal of Business Research, 63(4), 347-355.

John, A., & Klein, J. (2003). The boycott puzzle: consumer motivations for purchase sacrifice. Management Science, 49(9), 1196-1209.

Klein, J. G., Smith, N. C., & John, A. (2004). Why we boycott: consumer motivations for boycott participation. Journal of Marketing, 92-109.

Pagan Jr, R. D. (1986). The Nestle boycott: Implications for strategic business planning. Journal of Business Strategy, 6(4), 12-18.

Sethi, S. P. (1994). Multinational corporations and the impact of public advocacy on corporate strategy: Nestle and the infant formula controversy (Vol. 6). Kluwer Academic.

Rumour has it: when brands have to battle with consumers’ hearsay.

buy the rumor, sell the fact

Here comes the story of Procter & Gamble and its moon-and-star logo.


The moon-and-star logo had been printed on P&G’s products for more than 140 years. It served as a reflection of P&G’s unique ability to satisfy and delight their consumers.


However, it was just the consumers who boycotted this logo and finally resulted in its removal and disuse in 1991. All came from a sparking rumour spreading almost through 1980s.

screen shot 2013-05-21 at 11.00.29 am

Rumour had it that this logo represented satanic symbol (see Wikipedia: P&G, logo controversy) and that P&G was Moonies-controlled (Kimmel, 2013). Such a rumour triggered a national crisis and finally P&G re-designed their logo in 1991 to cease the tidal wave of public criticism.


Several big brands has struggled in rumour-caused crisis situation as P&G: McDonald was said to manufacture hamburgers with worm meat in America, and Coca cola was believed to be more cancer-causing in China. In each of these cases, rumours had a devastating negative impact on these brands’ image and their relationship with customers.

Interestingly although these brands did utmost to root out the undesirable hearsays transmitting in their consumer communities, none of the rumours ever died a natural death. In P&G case, the satanic logo rumour made several comebacks in 1980s, in each time of which consumers just believed in the rumour.

So why people blindly took in such rumours?


There are three main reasons for people believe in and transmit a rumour: release the anxiety and make sense of the uncertain situation, enhance self-worth and maintain social relationships (DiFonzo & Bordia, 2007).

Before the satanic logo rumour spreading, Moonies (Unificationism) was just on their way to rise. People in some religion community got the anxiety on the question of whether it would cause damage to their religion peace. Hence when initially occurring in small communities, the rumour that a super-big brand as P&G was involved in evil activities seemed to make sense for these people.

On the other hand, social motivation also plays a role in people’s desire to spreading the rumour. Imagine a chat your friend tells a shocking so-called non-public story in details. Would not he immediately become the focus in a casual chat? When linked into celebrities and grand brands (especially daily-seen brands as P&G), rumours are just juicier for a bull session.

Rumours stem from some basic human motivations for social interaction and they may even be ineradicable. Therefore, how can the companies and brands deal with them?

Here are three tips for the battle with commercial rumours:

Tip 1: Build the reputation firewall before an ignited rumour.

If a rumour is consistent with consumers’ existing attitudes, they will be much likely to believe in it (Litman & Pezzo, 2000). Hence the pre-rumour attitudes from consumers may be vital for the brands. Before P&G logo rumour spreading, the fast-expending P&G business had already invited criticism. The stereotype of evil big business shadowed on the consumers’ feeling when they heard the rumour.

Tip 2: Release the favourable information by credibility source.

It has been proven in scientific research that when credible and authoritative professionals or organization release some information, people will have a stronger belief in it (Petty & Cacciopo, 1981). So in a clarification to settle a rumour out, it is always better to secure the reliability by the help of professionals with public credibility.

Tip 3: Cut off the repeatedly hearing for the consumers.

There is an old saying as that a lie said one thousand times become truth. In the perspective of psychology, it’s called illusory truth effect: when people hearing something repeatedly, chances are that they will believe that’s true (Mitchell, Dodson & Schacter, 2005). Therefore never leave the negative hearsay repeating itself.

After all, battling with rumour may be struggling hard and sometimes unavoidable. That is why rumour management expert is needed for the future marketing industry and also why I am working on it.


DiFonzo, N., & Bordia, P. (2007). Rumor psychology: Social and organizational approaches. American Psychological Association.

Kimmel, A. J. (2013). Rumors and rumor control: A manager’s guide to understanding and combatting rumors. Routledge.

Litman, J. A., & Pezzo, M. V. (2005). Individual differences in attitudes towards gossip. Personality and Individual Differences, 38(4), 963-980.

Mitchell, J. P., Dodson, C. S., & Schacter, D. L. (2005). fMRI evidence for the role of recollection in suppressing misattribution errors: The illusory truth effect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(5), 800-810.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1981). Issue involvement as a moderator of the effects on attitude of advertising content and context. Advances in consumer research, 8(1), 20-24.

picture resource:

Wikipedia: P&G, logo controversy


Cartoon from Alex Norris

Scarce to impress, popular to secure

Saying goes as that the scarcest fruit tastes sweetest. A wealth of advertising campaign has focused their main idea on bubbling up how rare the products are. Limited edition of designers’ works sky-rocket their price and never lose their fans’ desire to purchase.



The limited edition of Evian

Although the less seems to be more precious for consumers, the most chosen products have also gain preference because the popularity as well. The “No.1 selling record” appears on a great many kinds of daily commodity.


This may seem to be paradoxical. There are two entirely different advertising laws: the principle of scarcity, and the principle of social proof. As for the Scarcity, the rare products are valued much more than others because it is a human nature to pursue scarce resource to achieve unbeatable advantage in sexual selection (Lynn, 1991). On the other hand, Social proof heuristic lead people consider the most favoured choice by counterparts to be most secured (Rao, Greve & Davis, 2001).


Mate-attraction motivation promotes scarcity heuristic.

So will any one of these two principles weigh out of the other? Will the audience for an advertisement more fond of product of scarcity or social proof?

Interestingly it largely depends on the social motivation context for a consumer.

The research by Griskevicius et al (2007, 2009, 2011) shows that

a)     When male subjects have an arousing mate-attraction motivation (researchers shows them pictures of attractive women or romantic video before the evaluation of products), they will value a “limited edition” much more than in an average motivation context.

b)    When they are under a significant self-protection motivation (researchers shows them criminal plots, in words or video before the evaluation of products), they will choose a “majority’s choice” much more frequently.

Such a phenomenon may due to in the two situations above (mate-attraction or self-protection) consumers get different consideration of risk (Akinson, 1957). For the mate-attraction, although rare product can be linked to relatively high risk, its impact on self-enhance is viewed more important. Conversely, when the self-protection motivation dominates, the less risk is favored thus consumers will much more likely make a decision based on conformity.

Hence here comes its interesting practice in real world advertising:

Some TV shows, such as CSI, criminal minds, 1000 ways to die, may be unsuitable for an ad for a new product or a limited edition, while the best-selling commodity should not be advertised between romantic drama series, such as Skin. Predictably,  it may be particularly useful for soft advertisement.


Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological review, 64(6p1), 359.

Griskevicius, V., Ackerman, J. M., Van den Bergh, B., & Li, Y. J. (2011). Fundamental Motives and Business Decisions. In Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences (pp. 17-40). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Sundie, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Miller, G. F., & Kenrick, D. T. (2007). Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption: when romantic motives elicit strategic costly signals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 93(1), 85.

Lynn, M. (1991). Scarcity effects on value: A quantitative review of the commodity theory literature. Psychology & Marketing, 8(1), 43-57.

Rao, H., Greve, H. R., & Davis, G. F. (2001). Fool’s gold: Social proof in the initiation and abandonment of coverage by Wall Street analysts. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46(3), 502-526.

A brave new marketing: from consumers to constructers

When I was writing my precious blogs (all about consumers making irrational justifications), I kept thinking that whether consumers are so easy to be tricked that all the marketing principles are about how to do a snow job on these people.

It seems that quite a lot of marketers have developed such a belief. There is even a book called “All Marketers are liars”.


Really, Mr. Godin?

I am not to talk about the moral philosophy in marketing and consumer research. I just question the effectiveness of such a passive idea in the marketing practice. We all live in a highly information-based world. Consumers are much less likely drifting with what the marketers telling and selling. They have the intelligence and creativity to participate in the producing and selling more positively (Shirky, 2010).

Shirky has put out the concept Cognitive Surplus: people are willing to spend their spared time in constructively creating instead of passive consumption. That’s why we have – coming from millions of intelligence contribution online.

Such an idea has been popularized in areas of information research and mass media management for years. It has also enlightened me that with the help of proper platform brands can build a real co-operative relationship with their consumers.

Consumers can devote their cognitive surplus into co-constructing with brands for designing, advertising and even creating new sub-brands (Shirky, 2010).

Through co-creation, consumers get higher involved in a brand or a product, which generally promote consumers’ preferable attitude towards brand (Thompson, Locander, & Pollio, 1989).

Branders can release their design demand online and invite the consumers (even potential ones) to contribute their ideas. Even when the task may be too professional to be completed by individual consumers, there can be some options to be chosen by these consumers.


However, isolated co-creating event can hardly make a big difference. From my perspective, there should be an open platform for all kinds of brands to put their invitations for co-designing on it. Hence consumers can browse and search for such tasks. By accurate rewarding and positive feedback, it’s possible to keep their motivation to devote their cognitive surplus (Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, Walsh, & Gremler, 2004).

A collective information posting website will be beneficial in the following ways:

For one thing, it can act as a more effective advertising method. When people think some they can do something for a certain brand, they will process the branding information more deeply (Mittal & Lee, 1989).

For another, a regularly renewed website could promote the occasionally browsing into a habit, resulting in increasing web hit, and enlarge the resource of audience.

Most importantly, companies can get really brilliant ideas from consumers, in relatively low cost (think about the scaring service charge of design consulting).

One of the existing website that can be learned from is Design Crowd, an interactive custom design online platform.

design crowd

Maybe some people will doubt whether the general consumers would be able to make a real difference in design chain. Just think about the huge number of actively participants online and their increasing education background into consideration. It will be all about open the platform and expand it to the proper scale.

All in all, marketers should be learners, instead of liars. That’s what I would like to mention as positive consumer psychology.




Hennig-Thurau, T., Gwinner, K. P., Walsh, G., & Gremler, D. D. (2004). Electronic word-of-mouth via consumer-opinion platforms: what motivates consumers to articulate themselves on the internet?. Journal of interactive marketing, 18(1), 38-52.

Mittal, B., & Lee, M. S. (1989). A causal model of consumer involvement. Journal of Economic Psychology, 10(3), 363-389.

Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive surplus: How technology makes consumers into collaborators. Penguin. com.

Thompson, C. J., Locander, W. B., & Pollio, H. R. (1989). Putting consumer experience back into consumer research: The philosophy and method of existential-phenomenology. Journal of Consumer Research, 133-146.

Less is more? The value-misevaluation.


Last year when I harvested on my friends for birthday gifts, I was particularly pleased for a small handkerchief from my friend X.


“X must be the most generous man I have ever known,” I showed off to my boyfriend, “he gave me this super-nice ¥200-worth handkerchief.”


My boyfriend treated it with contempt, “Really? It’s less than a half of the worth of the wallet I gave you.”


After nearly a whole-year re-evaluation, I still feel that the handkerchief is more valuable than the wallet. I have been sorry for that I may suffer from a value-evaluation disorder, until I read some scientific proof on such a less-is-better effect (Hsee, 1996; Hsee, 1998; Chernev, 2003).


A normatively less valuable option can be judged more favourable than its alternative of more value (Hsee, 1996), due to a series of factors, such as framing effect (Kahneman and Tversky, 1981) and information display (Johnson, Payne & Bettman, 1988)


Hsee (1998) demonstrates three different examples for such an effect:


a)    A person giving £45 scarf is considered as more generous than one giving a £50 coat (similar to my experience).

b)    7 oz of ice cream overfilling a small cup is valued more than 8 oz of ice cream underfilling a bigger cup.

c)     A dinner set including 24 pieces is more preferable than that of 31 pieces and a few broken ones.


It is an interesting phenomenon in which people’s judgment is based on some attributes easy to be evaluated instead of attributes really important but hard to be evaluated (Hsee, 1998).


In my case, I compared the gifts’ relative expensiveness in their own category, due to such two products cannot be compared directly. Obviously, a ¥200 handkerchief is relatively expensive compared with other handkerchiefs, while a ¥400 wallet is just middling in its category. In this way, the handkerchief is much more valuable than the wallet for me.


For the consumers, the salience of products’ attractiveness could greatly influent their purchasing decision (Dhar, 1997). It makes the evaluation of products easier because they do not need to evaluate all of the attributes, especially when some of attributes go beyond their first-sense. In the ice-cream case, consumers can hardly estimate the difference between 7 oz and 8 oz, but they can tell at the first glance that of overfilling and underfilling. It’s also true in the dinner set case: broken ones are just too obvious to be traded off by the number of pieces.


That’s why people can be easily tricked in value-evaluation process.


This effect can be applied into selling practice, especially in sales promotion. Last year when I was working on the sales plan of the menswear business, my colleagues provided me two kinds of free gifts for our consumers: four small scarves of different colours or a t-shirt.




As you can imagine, although the scarf set is cheaper in original cost,it was much more effective than the t-shirt.


That ‘s the less-is-more story.


After I show this blog to my bf, he said:


“Well, maybe I should buy a piece of really expensive and fancy paper towel for your next birthday. I hope it will beat your dear-dear handkerchief by your own theory.”







Chernev, A. (2003). When more is less and less is more: The role of ideal point availability and assortment in consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(2), 170-183.


Dhar, R. (1997). Consumer preference for a no-choice option. Journal of Consumer Research, 24(2), 215-231.


Hsee, C. K. (1998). Less is better: When low-value options are valued more highly than high-value options. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 11(2), 107-121.


Hsee, C. K. (1996). The evaluability hypothesis: An explanation for preference reversals between joint and separate evaluations of alternatives. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 67(3), 247-257.


Johnson, E. J., Payne, J. W., & Bettman, J. R. (1988). Information displays and preference reversals. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 42(1), 1-21.


Tversky, A., Kahneman, D., & Choice, R. (1981). The framing of decisions. Science, 211, 453-458.


The small business I am working in:

Handicap Principle: the ‘waste’ that tells and sells

Here comes a Chinese story:

Once there was a man selling china in the markets. Although all pieces of his china were in great quality, people were unwilling to pay as much as he is asking for. So he went to seek help from the wiser. Then in the next day the wiser came to market and suddenly broke all of the china to pieces in front of all the passers-by, except only one little china cup.

“This cup is a really good one, so throw away the others and just keep it,” the wiser said, both to the crowding onlookers and the slack-jawed china-seller.

Immediately some people began to bid for this cup, ending at a price several times more than the value of all the china before the wiser breaking it.

Afterwards the man asked, “Is the cup really the only good one?”

“Of course not,” the wiser answered, “what I have done is just to make these people believe in it.”

This story shows an interesting phenomenon that people trend to believe the signal that is prohibitively costly for the sender (Maynard Smith and Harper, 2003). What the wiser does is just promoting the reliability of the signal (that this cup is in great quality) by dramatically increasing the signal’s cost (breaking all other china).

That is what has been call as Handicap Principle.


There is even a TV show in which some experts keep breaking fake antique china. It is called TREATURE EVALUATION. The man in the pictures is Wang, who has gained a great reputation for smashing hundreds of china in this show.

It is the biologists who first put forward Handicap Principle to explain how evolution may lead costly fitness signals (e.g. trail of peacocks) to be received as more believable, especially in sexual selection (Zahavi, 1975). Evolutionary psychologists also apply Handicap Principle to some social activities (Dunham, 2011). People create certain kinds of wasteful behaviours, serving as creditable signals to enhance their own competitive advantages (Salamon & Deutsch, 2006). A really handy example is pursuing a Master degree (just as we are doing now). For some potential employers, a Master degree is a believable signal of our professional ability, for pursuing it seems costly for us (sure it is).

Handicap Principle fits in the interaction between marketers and consumers as well. As Ambler and Hollier (2004) suggest, excesses in advertising work promote the reliability of the brand’s ‘fitness’. Ambler and Hllier (2004) also point out that great advertising expense increase consumers’ belief in brand reliability and brand quality instead of product.

Louis Vuitton has taken this principle into their commercial campaign in 2011:

This advertisement lasts for 96 seconds, but coveys no product information. Actually it tells nothing about selling, quite wasteful for a commercial campaign. But it has created a long-last impression on the general receivers about its brand. The signal of gorgeous styling is perceived as believable in this way.

Now I am thinking: next time when I deliver a presentation, should I just turn off the Projector and put some old-school-fashioned hand-printings on the blackboard? Maybe it will make what I am going to talk about much more believable.