Cialdini Principles of Persuasion Series – Principle 4: Authority

April 8, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


They say that people like to question authority, but in the ad world, it’s just the opposite that’s true. People will listen to authority and be greatly influenced by it, as Cialdini knows all too well. Authority is such a strongly ingrained concept in the human psyche that people are programmed to obey authority figures—even if their commands are morally repugnant. Needless to say, such a powerful force can be harnessed for influence in marketing.

Authority applies to the non-marketing world, too. Just think of figures of authority in our society, like police officers, judges and doctors. What do they have in common that springs to mind right away? I’ll give you a hint: It’s how they dress! They all have uniforms. These powerful styles of dress communicate that they are people we should listen to.

Taking this concept a step further, there was an experiment conducted in the 1960s, called the Milgram Experiment. It examined how human beings obey authority figures, and the results were shocking. Essentially, it proved that many people could be persuaded and tricked into inflicting harm on fellow human beings as long as an authority figure kept commanding them to do so. It stunned even professional psychologists who believed in the innate goodness of the human condition.

Does that sound scary? If it does, then it simply confirms how powerful this aspect of persuasion is! As such, it’s also a very potent force that challenger brands can unleash to increase their market share.

Charles Schwab Creates Authority Through Its Blog

Corporate blogging is one of the best ways businesses can display authority to their leads and customers. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s among the most popular forms of marketing that businesses rely on today. And with good reason.

The purpose of a blog is to catch organic traffic from search engines like Google that’s looking for specific keywords. The more high-quality and super-informative content that lives on your blog, the more you develop regular readers, fans and maybe even thought-leadership status. Your blog is therefore instrumental in attracting leads, sending them to the top of your sales funnel, and then eventually converting them into sales.

By providing advice, tips, tutorials, analysis and viewpoints that readers in your industry can’t get from any other source, you’re raising the authority of your brand. A prime example of this is Charles Schwab.


The financial services company competes with bigger dogs in its space, so it has to stand out somehow without spending a ton of money. Its Career Investments blog is the perfect place to do this. The blog offers hungry readers a healthy mix of career advice, case studies, opinions from professionals in corporate America, and tips related to branding and education.

Thanks to all of this exceptionally helpful information, the next time a site visitor sees the “contact” link on the Schwab website, he’ll associate Schwab with being an authority in the financial space, thus leading to an actual connection.

Fox News Displays Its Social Shares

Fox News is still an upstart of sorts in news, being barely 20 years old. Compared to the New York Times, for instance, it’s a downright rookie! Fox News’ website is also ranked lower than the Times’ website in terms of site visitors, according to Alexa, a huge Internet analytics measurer.

Nonetheless, because of Fox News’ ardent and lively fans, the company is able to build authority based on social shares alone when site visitors tweet and share highly relevant news stories on Facebook.

One such example recently occurred with a hot-button issue: President Obama’s desire to nail down a nuke deal with Iran. The looming deal has been the subject of much criticism for its inability to guarantee Iran’s compliance at any cost.

When Fox News ran an article that revealed that the State Department wouldn’t insist that Israel’s “right to exist” would be included as part of the language in the deal, Fox News fans shared the article to the tune of 1.7k social shares (962 tweets and more than 700 Facebook shares).


Such an excessive amount of social shares do a great deal for the authority of the Fox News website since it helps to persuade readers that the site must be very credible in order to attain all those shares.

LegalZoom Gets Robert Shapiro’s Involvement

Even if you haven’t been following the American legal scene, you’ll likely be familiar with the name Robert Shapiro because of his involvement in the infamous O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-90s. As such, Shapiro is a household name that extends beyond just the narrow frame of reference of the legal system.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

When LegalZoom’s original founders devised the concept for LegalZoom—a service that offers all sorts of legal solutions—it wanted to bring on an authority figure as part of its founding team. Serial entrepreneur Brian S. Lee, who’s also behind ShoeDazzle.com and The Honest Company, got in touch with Shapiro and convinced him to join the team. What LegalZoom got was a widely known authority figure whose persona could persuade people to choose the company for their legal solutions.


The company was smart enough to also feature Shapiro in an actual commercial for LegalZoom, where he quickly and efficiently explained the great concept behind this startup. Needless to say, people who were on the fence about choosing LegalZoom were put at ease by Shapiro’s appearance in the commercial and persuaded to use the company based on his authority in the legal field.

Ask The Doctor.com Showcases Doctors in Videos

Video that takes up the entire background of homepages is a nifty and increasingly popular trend today in web design. PayPal’s homepage is a great example of this. Another company that uses this is Ask the Doctor.com, for its homepage.

What separates Ask the Doctor’s homepage from PayPal’s is the heavy use of authority figures in the videos. On Ask the Doctor.com, a service that allows folks to ask medical questions of any of the 10,000-plus, board-certified doctors on the site, doctors are featured in various scenes.


Some are featured treating patients while others are smiling at the camera and holding babies. In all parts of the video, the doctors are always shown in their white doctor’s coats or with their stethoscopes. This conveys authority in a heartbeat since people are already programmed to think of doctors and uniforms as being symbols of authority.

Because the site conveys this authority right off the bat, that’s going to help in persuading people to use the service very enthusiastically.

Authority Is Not Something to Take Lightly

Authority’s a huge marketing persuader, the way Cialdini sees it. The brands above demonstrate nicely how using authority on websites and through endorsements can build trust with audiences. Once people begin to trust your challenger brand, it’s easier than ever to move them down the sales funnel into converting, making a purchase and then customer retention.

This psychological principle is deeply ingrained in your customers’ psyche, which Cialdini has determined through his years of research. By using authority in your advertising, you can see stellar results in your marketing campaigns.

We’re in the home stretch of our Cialdini series now, so hang tight for next week’s persuasion principle: liking. It hits on behavioral tendencies you may not be aware of. See you then!


Marc Schneker is a copywriter who’s an expert in business and marketing topics like e-commerce, B2Bs, digital marketing and design. To find out what really makes him tick, head on over to his website, and don’t forget to make his day by liking his Facebook page!

For more insights into challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and check out these other posts:

Cialdini Principles Of Persuasion Series – Principle 3: Social Proof 

Cialdini Principles Of Persuasion Series – Principle 2: Commitment & Consistency

Cialdini Principles Of Persuasion Series – Principle 1: Reciprocity


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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