Monday, March 26, 2007

Flattery will get you nowhere

A decade ago, Lynda Obst, the Hollywood producer, wrote a forgettable book with an unforgettable title -- Hello, He Lied -- which pretty much sums up my initial state of mind whenever I'm accosted by retail sales clerks. They invariably say one or both of the things that make me grind my teeth: "That's really popular right now" or "That really looks great on you." I'd really rather be ignored.

Happily, it turns out that nobody believes this blather, according to Kelley Main, Darren Dahl, and Peter Darke, a trio of Canadian marketing professors. They conducted a set of experiments using a sunglasses kiosk in which the sales clerks flattered shoppers either during the sale, after the sale, or not at all. Then, they asked the shoppers to rate the trustworthiness of the clerks. Guess what? Flattery, whether it comes during or after the sale, lowers the shopper's perception of the clerk's trustworthiness. In fact, it automatically (that is, without conscious reflection) makes them suspicious.

The professors' results and conclusions were just published under the title "Deliberative and Automatic Bases of Suspicion: Empirical Evidence of the Sinister Attribution Error" in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. They could have used Obst's help there.

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