Cialdini’s Clarity Principle
Robert Cialdini, the Arizona State University Professor is one of the most important social scientists of the last generation. He is best known for his work on principles of persuasion and influencing others. He explains the contrast principle quite succinctly. He says that we often understand something better when we see it in comparison with something else, than when we see it in isolation. Clarity depends on contrast.
Daniel H. Pink in his highly insightful and best selling book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others tells a story about the legendary advertising man Rosser Reeves in this context. While the precise details of the story are in doubt and not verifiable as it has been retold over the past fifty years, the power of the clarity principle is amplified. Here is the story:
One afternoon, Reeves and a colleague were returning after having lunch in Central Park to their office in Madison Avenue. On the way back they saw a man sitting in the park begging for money. He had a cup for donations with a handwritten cardboard sign that read: I am blind.
The cup contained only few coins as the blind man’s attempts to move others to donate money were meeting with little success. Reeves thought he knew why and told his colleague that he can dramatically increase the amount of money in the cup by simply adding four words to his handwritten cardboard sign. The colleague, who was skeptical challenged Reeves to do so.
Reeves went to the blind man, introduced himself and explained that he knew something about persuasive communication that can move others and offered to change the sign by adding just four words, which will make people stop and donate thus increasing the money in his cup. The beleaguered man agreed. Reeves took a marker and added his four words and stepped back joining his colleague to watch.
Within a few minutes, a few people dropped coins in to the man’s cup. More people stopped as time passed and some have even dropped dollar bills in the cup. Before long, the cup was running over with cash and the once sad-looking blind man feeling his cup full with cash beamed.
What are the four words that Reeves added?
It is spring time and
The sign now read:
It is springtime
and I am blind.
We see the clarity principle at work here. Clarity depends on contrast. The blind man’s sign moved people in the park to empathize with him by starkly comparing their reality with his.
Image credit: C. S. Phanindra