Made to Stick – Credibility

May 22, 2008 at 10:47 am 1 comment

As I posted previously from “Made to Stick,” concreteness strips a message of abstract elements. It gives the audience tangible elements that are easily understood. In chapter four of “Made to Stick,” the Heath brothers explain how a message must also have credibility to become “sticky.”

Credibility stems from how people believe ideas. Honest and truthful message sources garner better credibility than messages built on celebrity status. If a genuinely good idea originates from a questionable source, then the idea may be dismissed prematurely. At the same time, a false idea from a credible source may be taken for truth.

Communicators rely on their message’s credibility for maximum effectiveness. “Made to Stick” outlines several ways to produce credible messages. One way is create an anti-authority. The book’s example of an anti-authority is Pam Laffin, a smoker with emphysema. Laffin’s involvement in an anti-smoking campaign gave the campaign credibility, because audiences saw smoking’s effects on one ill individual.

Another way to give messages credibility is to provide details. Vague messages will be dismissed earlier than messages with details, even if the details are irrelevant. Messages can also ask the audiences to test a claim found within the message. The Heath Brothers say, “Testable credentials can provide an enormous credibility boost, since they essentially allow your audience members to ‘try before they buy.’”

An example of message lacking credibility is a 1998 drug advertisement by a Partnership for a Drug-Free America. PDFA created the famous “This is Your Brain on Drugs” ad in the 1980s. Ten years later, PDFA updated the campaign. Their newer version of the ad can be found here.

In the 1990s ad, Rachael Leigh Cook holds an egg (symbolizing your brain) and a frying pan (symbolizing heroin). Cook then smashes the egg with the frying pan, proclaiming, “This is your brain after snorting heroin.” She then unleashes full-blown frying pan fury, smashing plates, lights and glasses. The ad tries to connect Cook’s fit of rage with heroin’s pitfalls.

In no aspect is this ad credible. It shows nothing that resembles actual heroin use. PDFA bypasses any sign of wit or cleverness; instead, PDFA uses semi-celebrity Rachael Leigh Cook breaking glassware to demonstrate heroin’s effects.

To make this ad more credible, PDFA may have employed an anti-authority figure, such as a recovering heroin addict. This method would elevate the message’s emotional appeal, instead of using frightening tactics. Or PDFA should have supplied details on heroin use to reach their audiences. A concrete fact has more credibility than a vague fit of rage.

By relying on a celebrity to communicate its message, PDFA’s ad seems silly instead of credible.


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About the Blogger

My name is Ben Benson. I attend the University of Oregon. I will graduate next spring with a degree in public relations from the School of Journalism and Communication.
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