The Key to Successful Persuasion: How to Not Be Like Flo from Progressive

Guest Post by Katie Kuzmishin

There you are: sitting in your living room watching your favorite show when BAM! the commercials start and you see Flo from Progressive. You wouldn’t say you hate her, but you definitely have a strong distaste for Flo. She stands there in her white outfit and weird Progressive apron, with her crazy eyeliner and bright lipstick and you can’t help but think that she’s just an actress who probably doesn’t know anything about insurance.

Because of your hate—excuse me, dislike— for Flo, you also don’t like Progressive or, at least, don’t think highly of the company and are less likely to use them as your insurance provider.

So what’s going on here? Is your burning hatred for a boisterous actress on a few commercials really affecting your purchasing of insurance from a particular company? Actually, yes. There are three variables through which persuasion works: the source, the message, and the audience.

The source is the person, company, or group that is presenting the message. The message is what you’re being told. The audience—that’s you.

A Persuader’s Credibility

Successful PersuasionA source is most effective at persuasion when she is credible—do you perceive her to be an expert in her field? Does she have any sort of credentials that make her qualified to be telling you whatever it is she’s telling you? Do you trust what she’s saying and that it’s accurate? These factors, whether you are aware of them or not, will affect how much you are persuaded.

A 1951 experiment demonstrated how important source credibility is to persuasion. In their experiment, they gave participants one of four persuasive messages written by either a trustworthy or untrustworthy source.

This means that one participant might see a message about the future of movie theaters written by Fortune magazine and another participant might see an article about the future of movie theaters written by a movie- gossip columnist. This simulates a trustworthy/ high credible source (Fortune magazine) and an untrustworthy/ low credible source (gossip columnist).

Opinions about the topic were taken before and after reading the message. The results were telling: participants were much more likely to change their opinion when they knew it came from an expert and much less willing to change their opinion when the message came from a low credible source.

It’s About Likeability, Too

Persuasion is likely to occur when the source is also likable—is she physically attractive or similar in any way to you?

Another study demonstrated that source likeability is important to the persuasiveness of a source. Specifically, greater physical attractiveness of the source leads to greater likability and an increase in persuasiveness of the source. This study found that the more similar the source is to her audience, the more the audience tends to like the source. With an increase in source likeability, comes an increase in source persuasiveness.

Learning Lessons from Flo

Successful PersuasionSo, what does this have to do with Flo? Well, Flo is the source of a message. She is in every Progressive commercial. Flo, for all intents and purposes, is the face of Progressive Insurance.

However, her squeaky voice, boisterous makeup, and goofy antics split viewers between loving her and despising her and her message. Add to this that she is a paid actress who probably has no idea what insurance even is, and you have a very unlikeable and untrustworthy source.

This makes for bad, Bad, BAD persuasion. Again, persuasion is most likely to occur when the source is credible and likeable—and, sorry, Flo, but you’re neither.

So how can a source be persuasive? For starters, don’t act like Flo and remember what psychologists found from their experiments. To increase likability, put your best foot forward—dress well, speak well. You can also establish similarity between you and your audience—do you like the same kinds of music, clothes, food? Do you look alike? By increasing your likability, you will be increasing your persuasiveness.

Secondly, make it clear that you are a trustworthy expert because this will increase your credibility as a source. Provide accurate information and be sincere in your message and you will be well on the road to Persuasion-ville.

These tips and tricks about persuasion will undoubtedly assist you in all your future persuasion endeavors and, most importantly, prevent you from being like Flo!

Katie Kuzmishin wrote this article as a final writing assignment in my Attitudes and Persuasion class at the College of Wooster.

Feature Image: “Evening Watching Television” by via Flickr –  Licensed under CC BY 2.0, cropped

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