Credibility is Essential

May 26, 2008

In my advanced PR Writing class we are reading a book called “Made to Stick” written by brothers, Dan Heath and Chip Heath. In the book, the authors outline the six important principles of stickiness. In my last post I discussed the importance of concreteness and in this post will focus on the principle of credibility.

Credibility makes an audience believe an idea or a message. If there is no credibility, an audience will not consider an idea or a message as truthful.

In “Made to Stick,” the Heath brothers discuss a variety of ways that will give a message or an idea the credibility it needs to make an effect on its audience. First way to achieve credibility is to use an authority. We believe our parents when they tell us things because we consider them as figures of authority. Also, if the president of our country conveys a message, we are more likely to consider it to be true because he is an authority in our eyes (hypothetically speaking). Authority figures can be experts, celebrities and other aspirational figures.

Another way to establish credibility is to use an “anti-authority.” According to Dan and Chip Heath, and anti-authority is someone who does not necessarily have the status of a celebrity or an aspirational figure, but is thought to be honest and experienced on the subject matter. The book uses Pam Laffin as an example of an anti-authority for a campaign against smoking. Pam is a woman who started smoking at the age of ten and developed emphysema by the age twenty-four. She also suffered a failed lung transplant. Pam Laffin is a good example of an anti-authority because she is a real-life example of the negative impact that smoking has on a human body. Pam is a good example because she is not an actress and has no ulterior motives for participating in this campaign. It is proven that people will be more receptive to a message if they know that the person relaying that message is doing it out of their own free will. The receiver of the message has much more trust in the message. The books asserts that sometimes anti-authorities are at times even better than authorities.

Another great example described in “Made to Stick” focuses on the audience as the credible source. In a famous Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” campaign on 1984, Wendy’s customers are utilized as the source of credibility. This method doesn’t use external credibility or internal credibility, but it uses the audience. Wendy’s outsourced its credibility to its customers. The “customers” in this campaign verify the truth in that Wendy’s burgers are truly bigger than those from Burger King and McDonald’s. The challenge of asking customers to test a claim for themselves is known as “testable credential,” which according to Chip and Dan Heath can provide a large credibility boost.

Details are also essential to the credibility of a message. “Made to Stick” suggests that vivid and specific details in urban legends and other stories boost the credibility of that story. If the audience can easily picture the message that they are being told, they are more likely to believe in it. Humanizing statistic in a message is also very important because it helps add credibility instead of confusion. By utilization the above techniques, one can develop a clear message that will “stick” to your chosen audience.


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