How politicians, celebrities, and brands get you to “like” them

A paper sign on a lamp post that says "Be the first of your friends to like this post" below it has the facebook thumb's up icon so people can tear one off.
“Like This Post” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During a recent online discussion, a colleague posed a question about the Persuasion Principle of Liking (Robert Cialdini). Most of the examples in literature are at an individual scale, meant for 1:1 interaction. He was interested in how this does or could scale.

For my contribution to the discussion, I decided to focus on politicians, celebrities, and brands and how they utilize the Principle of Liking to encourage the general public or their target markets to “like” them at scale.


The first example of this that came to mind is how people will say “They talk like me,” or “They tell it like it is,” (which, in my opinion, actually means “this person has the same opinions as me”) about why they like particular politicians. If you’re curious about this and don’t mind a very dense read, I recommend The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, as he breaks down the moral structures and topics (which then you could deuce wording and phrases) that appeal to different subsets of the public.

Another way I think brands, celebrities, and politicians foster similarity this is through origin stories. A brand for a protein bar will tell you the story of how it all started with an avid fitness person in their kitchen who wanted a better option than the ones currently on the market. Or a politician or celebrity will tell the story of their humble beginnings. An underrated example of this, in my opinion, is Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block” song, which highlights her “regular” upbringing.

Brands also highlight similarity by featuring people who look like you in ads. When I was looking for a new car a few years ago, I was shocked that I subconsciously added the Cadillac brand to my online search, as I’ve always associated Cadillac with “my grandmother drove one of those.” But when I thought about it, I’d seen several Cadillac ads recently where they showed women who looked like me owning and driving them. While I’m yet to find proof, I’m also convinced Cadillac may have had a marketing agreement with Carrie Underwood to create her song “Two Black Cadillacs” to market to younger women.


Politicians and performers on stage tend to give these compliments outright. I’ve come to dread the part of concerts where they shout “We love you New Orleans!” because I’m sure they say that in every city. And I wonder if it’s written somewhere where they can see it so they don’t say the wrong name, but I digress….

Politicians tend to say things like “Detroit, you are amazing. You’ve had a tough few years, but you are coming back because you all are incredible.” Arguably, the more the politician or celebrity genuinely believes this, the more genuine it’ll come across.

Brands are usually more subtle. The one that immediately comes to mind is the Dove campaign for real beauty ads. They are celebrating women’s bodies and saying “You are beautiful no matter your size, shape, stretch marks, etc.” Although it’s worth noting that their parent company also owns Axe body spray, which as a brand has a vastly different commentary on women and beauty.


I joke that you could channel-surf on TV by which commercials are on (Subway ads = Simpsons, Family Guy, or American Dad mostly). I think that’s especially true on Sunday mornings during the intellectual news and financial market commentary. The ads during these times are highly environmental and cooperative-focused. They tend to have a theme around, “We’re working with you to protect and sustain our environment” and are run by oil companies and the like.

While I could also argue it’s reciprocity, Chick-Fil-a’s marketing strategy of sponsoring a tremendous amount of community events, in my opinion, is a great example of, “We’re a part of this community cooperating with you to make it a better place” cooperation.

Ethics consideration

With scale, you cross an ethical line if you lead the person to believe there is a direct or personal connection when there isn’t. I get emails that have my name in the subject area and are addressed to me, but I realize that it’s a form letter. But if they sent an automated email that made me think a particular person (such as a politician or celebrity) themselves wrote to me when they didn’t and/or made me think the message was sent to just me when it wasn’t, I think that’s unethical. And, it risks ruining the relationship of the person discovers it.

“It’s not failure, it’s data”

A teapoot with a fortune cookie wrapper coming out of it that reads "do not fear failture"
“Do not fear failure” by Tomasz Stasiuk is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“It’s not failure, it’s data,” Elizabeth Lombardo wrote in my most recent edition of Health Magazine. She was talking about what to do after you’ve swayed from your diet/eating plan, but this quote is also very relevant to marketing.

Too often, I hear stories from marketing colleagues who are in work environments where failures are punished severely (mine is not that type of environment, thankfully). The result? They don’t innovate or take risks. They stick to what they’ve always done, and it seems to be working ok.

But that’s the problem, it’s just working ok. Those organizations are standing still while communication patterns change and other companies innovate. To really excel, you have to try new things, and that most likely means some successes (Chick-fil-a billboards) and some failures (remember Pepsi Clear?).

A marketing Vice President I interned with at the Kellogg Company told me to think of marketing more like a panel of knobs. You turn one and see what happens. If things go badly, you turn it back and turn another knob. If things go well, you turn it more or turn another knob.

“It’s not failure, it’s data.”

So how should your organization encourage stepping out of the comfort zone while also minimizing critical errors? For this answer, I turn to the “Mistakes” part of my old employee handbook from Adams Outdoor Advertising:

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. Be sure to screw up wildly, creatively, and originally. So long as you have a good rationale for the chances you take and the mistakes that result, and you spend more time being right than wrong, you are doing your job.

Honest mistakes are welcome. But if you make a mistake due to laziness or stupidity and try to use this section as a defense, you’re going to be fired.

Further reading:

Avoiding the copycat “Us too” style of marketing


Photo: “Do not fear failure” by Tomasz Stasiuk is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Chicken is causing a lot of trouble lately…

Roasted chicken on a platter.
Photo from Flickr: dunham_1

Usually if there is a meat controversy, beef or pork is getting the bad rap. Depending on your religious leaning, you might not be able to eat beef or pork, or both. And, who can forget the National Pork Board’s cease and desist order to Think Geek for their marketing of unicorn meat as the “new white meat” (if you haven’t read this, I HIGHLY encourage you to click the link. It’s very humorous to read).

But chicken? Usually chicken stays out of controversy. But not lately. And it seems that most of it is centered around a popular Southern chicken restaurant, Chick-fil-A. I already blogged about the political controversies of Chick-Fil-A and Papa John’s. but Chick-fil-A finds themselves in another sticky situation, which, this time, isn’t really their fault.

The Chick-fil-A sponsored bowl game is coming up and Louisiana State University (LSU) is playing in it. The controversy? LSU football coach, Les Miles, is a spokesman for Chick-fil-A’s competitor, Raising Cane’s. So, although his team will be having all the Chick-Fil-A sandwiches they want, Les Miles will wisely stay away from them. He’s quoted in a USA today article, Chick-fil-A Bowl a ‘chicken issue for LSU’s Les Miles, as saying, “I wouldn’t want someone to take a picture of me eating Chick-fil-A.”

A wise choice Mr. Miles. Try to avoid the “chicken issue” as much as you can.

And Chick-fil-A? This one’s not your fault, so handle it well and you’ll come out ok.

Dear company representatives, stop commenting on controversial issues!

Above: CNN responding to Papa John’s claims. Note: This is just an example of a video circulating. This does not mean I agree or disagree with CNN (otherwise, this would be a pretty hypocritical blog post, wouldn’t it?).


Dear company representatives (especially those in food and consumer goods),

Allow me to give you some professional advice: Stop commenting on controversial issues!  Especially if they aren’t directly related to your product line.

Yes, I know, you are family-owned companies in most cases, but learn from the Chick-Fil-A equal rights debacle and, most recently, the Papa John’s founder’s Obamacare statements and keep quiet. You can’t comment on a controversial issue and come away without offending SOMEONE and, in both of the above cases, a large portion of their consumer base. They will then boycott you and your bottom line is going to suffer tremendously. Not only that, but you’ll probably cause long-term brand damage.

And don’t think you can probably get away with it in your personal life either even though you may be “off the clock.” As a major representative for your company, any comments you say can and WILL be used against you in the courts of public opinion. Yes, I know, that feels like you are limited in your speech and that you are restricted more than the average person. I can empathize there. But guess what? That’s reality. That’s the price you pay for what you do for a living.

So, stop talking and spend your time focusing on the core aspects of your business. Believe me, you’ll thank me for this when you get your next check and it’s not significantly smaller.  Your PR people will, in-turn, thank you for not putting them through a very-not-fun crisis situation.

Your friend,