The Why #26: Why do we love celebs with dad bods?

By Dan Monheit, 20.8.21

Question submitted from Emma, Canberra

Look Emma, does it really matter why? For once, can’t we just enjoy the simple fact that it is? As a dad, with a bod, I feel like trying to get to the bottom of this is like your kids trying to get to the bottom of how the tooth fairy works. Nothing good can come of it.

But, alas, I have a professional responsibility, as well as a newsletter that’s literally called ‘The Why’, so I guess we’ll be doing this whether I like it or not.

For those not living at the bleeding edge of ‘cool’, the dad bod, sported by A-list celebs like Leo DiCaprio and John Krasinki, has become quite the thing — and who am I to complain? Why hit the gym like a frickin’ Hemsworth when you can achieve similar levels of appeal with some light stubble, a bit of pudge, and a smirk that says ‘Yeah, I know. But also, I don’t really care.’

In the largely superficial world of fashion and influence, dad bods seem like an unusual (if not ironic) twist. So whether you’ve got one, or you want one, grab your six pack, or your six pack, and let’s find out why.

The Pratfall Effect

The Pratfall Effect is the idea that people who are considered to be highly competent, intelligent or otherwise superior in some way, actually become more likable after committing a blunder, so long as the blunder is unrelated to what they’re known for.

In 1966, Aronson et al. asked groups of university students to listen to a tape recording of a fellow student, who they were told was representing the university in a quiz of academic prowess. The researchers played different recordings: one in which a prodigious student correctly answered 92% of questions, and another, in which a lousy student fumbled their way to 30%. Some of the recordings ended at the conclusion of the quiz, while others included a sudden splashing sound and the contestant exclaiming: “Oh my God, I’ve spilled my coffee all over my suit.” From here, the students needed to rate the contestants on a number of attributes.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the highly intelligent contestant was considered much more likable when he’d spilled coffee all over himself. Yes, he was smart, but now he was also more relatable. Unfortunately for Mr Mediocre, the opposite was true; being daft and clumsy was a losing combination.

The key to building likability through the Pratfall Effect is to stay brilliant at what’s important, while flaunting imperfections around what’s not. Discount airlines like Ryanair don’t joke about the quality of their planes or their pilots. They do, however, make light of their lack of food, service and other amenities.

It’s for this reason we often find actors more endearing when they’re packin’ a paunchy mid-section. Instead of being out of touch, Lamborghini driving, megamansion buying superhumans, dad bods prove that even big name celebrities can be flawed and lacking motivation like the rest of us. Cue empathy, relatability and a whole lot of dad bod directed love.

In advertising, most brands are relentlessly trying to promote the very best versions of themselves, which makes highlighting imprfections a sure fire way to stand out. Just remember, exposing your own weaknesses only works if you’re already shining brightly in the areas customers expect you to.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why we keep paying for insurance that we never use here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Pratfall Effect on episode 30 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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