James Swift

27 July 2021

Strategist’s Digest: The power of ‘you’ 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

‘You’ speaks to me: Effects of generic-you in creating resonance between people and ideas 

By Ariana Orvella, Ethan Kross, and Susan Gelman

Give it to me in one sentence.

Ideas expressed using the generic (or indefinite) ‘you’ are more likely to resonate with readers.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers created five experiments to test if ideas expressed using the generic-you – eg, ‘you have to take the rough with the smooth’ – were more likely to resonate with people.

The first used Amazon Kindle data on all 56 books from Oprah’s Book Club and examined whether highlighted passages were more likely (compared with control passages that weren’t highlighted) to include at least one use of the generic-you.

They found that the generic-you appeared in 26% of highlighted passages, compared with 3% from the control group.

In the second experiment, participants were asked to score highlighted passages that contained a generic-you and non-highlighted passages that did not. ‘As predicted, participants indicated that highlighted passages with generic-you resonated with them more strongly than control passages,’ wrote the researchers.

To determine whether generic-you caused resonance, the researchers re-wrote some of the highlighted passages from earlier experiments into the first person (ie, they replaced ‘you’ with ‘I’). Again, they found that generic-you passages were more likely to resonate than those written with first-person singular pronouns.

The conclusion was that generic-you is an effective lever for communicating ideas because it both addresses the reader directly and expresses information in a generalised way.

Why is this interesting?

Previous research has shown that you can change the content of a message to make it more likely to connect with an audience, by evoking emotion or appealing to readers’ belief. This study shows that you can do the same by changing the format of a message.

A lot of marketers probably instinctively knew about the power of generic-you, but it’s still useful to see it proved. 

Any weaknesses?

None that we can think of.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free.

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