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Simple Jury Persuasion: Turning weakness into strength

Friday, May 28, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

My first car was a 1968 Volkswagen. Robin’s egg blue. Twelve years old when I purchased it and lovingly restored by a retired man who brought it back to like new condition. Bad defrost system. Non-existent air conditioning. Way fun to drive. I loved that car. Mainly because it was my first.

Volkswagen played up the ‘ugly’ VW in their ads. They pointed out that it was not beautiful like other vehicles. They focused on safety and quality control. They turned the weakness (“it’s funny-looking”) into a strength. One of their slogans was “Ugly is only skin deep”. They giggled at the lack of beauty and played up fuel consumption, price point, German engineering and quality. It worked. VWs were everywhere.

You can put this idea to work in litigation advocacy. Part of the reason VW advertising was so persuasive is that they identified weaknesses first. They were therefore seen as modest, honest and trustworthy. The idea has actually been examined in the context of litigation advocacy. Back in 1993, Williams, Bourgeois and Croyle looked at what happens if you expose a weakness your opponent will expose given the chance. They called this ‘stealing thunder’. What they found was that if you raise the bad fact yourself, it plays well for you. If, on the other hand, you let your opponent raise the bad fact—it has twice the impact. Jurors see that you did not tell the whole truth—they do not like you as much and they certainly do not trust you.

So be brave. Get out in front of your bad facts. Turn that weakness into the strengths of likeability and trustworthiness.

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