Why likability matters

Unless you’re isolated from every media outlet on the planet these days, you’ve heard something in the news about candidate likability in the various races for national, state, and local office. Nationally, voters “like” Obama more than they do Romney.  Here in the tight Senate race in Massachusetts, voters “like” Republican Scott Brown more than Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Why so much focus on likability over metrics such as experience, intelligence, ideas, competence, etc.? Likability has been a top predictor of electoral success in every presidential election since 1960. Remember 2000, when voters said they’d much rather sit down for a beer with Bush than Gore?

Likability is also one important criterion we use to test advertising.  Even as advertising and advertising research have become much more sophisticated over time, likability continues to be a useful predictor of effectiveness.  Clients sometimes push back on the relevancy of “likability” as a metric.  They see it as too simple, or as not strongly related to their overall communication goals, such as whether the ad campaign will motivate consideration and purchase.  Although it seems simple, likability is actually a higher-order perception that combines trust, relevance, empathy, and authenticity.  All of these are good predictors of consideration and purchase – we tend to buy from brands and people that we trust and that understand our needs and values.  “Do you like this ad?” is also a question that people can answer easily and honestly, whereas it is harder to get a reliable answer to the question “Will you buy this product now that you’ve seen this ad?”

So just as likability will continue to be an important predictor of electoral success, it will also continue to be a useful predictor of advertising effectiveness.