Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Flatter Us, Don't Insult Us

The above advertisement is for an automatic Mini, featuring a sexist slogan – suggesting that women are ‘simple’. Fortunately for us, this ad is from the 1970s, so we can take a step back and quietly pretend it never happened.

Perhaps this was okay back then, but nowadays insulting half the potential consumer market is not a wise move. That’s a huge number of offended customers who now won’t buy the product. Instead, flattering potential buyers is much more likely to increase sales, and make everyone a little happier at the same time.

For example, in Hendrick et al.’s (1972) study, flattery greatly increased the likelihood that participants would complete and return a questionnaire. Randomly selected participants were sent either a one-page questionnaire (low-effort) or a seven-page questionnaire (high-effort), with a cover letter that either contained flattery for the respondent (respondent ingratiate), flattery for the solicitor (solicitor ingratiate), both flattery for the respondent and the solicitor, or no flattery at all. The number of returned questionnaires was used as the dependent variable.

The table above demonstrates the effectiveness of flattery when the cost of effort is high. Although this might not be helpful for the advertisement of some products, I imagine that buying a mini would involve a lot of effort and so taking a look at flattery techniques would be extremely useful. In this study, when the respondent was flattered they were almost three times as likely to complete the request than when there was no flattery at all. That’s a huge difference, and could have a major effect in selling products. It just goes to show, being a little nicer can really pay off.


Hendrick, C., Borden, R., Giesen, M., Murray, E. J., & Seyfried, B. A. (1972). Effectiveness of ingratiation tactics in a cover letter on mail questionnaire response. Psychonomic Science,26, 349-351.

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