Get Free Stuff, Good Karma and Change the World in One Hit: The Flattery Project

How a simple compliment could help find a cure for cancer.

It is a long-held truth that flattery can get you places, but can it get you anything else?

Why flattery is effective

There is a basic psychology at work with flattery. Its power is so strong that even if you know the flatterer is attempting to manipulate you, it’s is near impossible to resist. This makes it a powerful weapon in the fields of sales, relationships, networking, job interviews and marketing.

A couple of marketing academics from Hong Kong University undertook a study in 2010, the subsequent report “Insincere Flattery Actually Works: A Dual Attitudes Perspective,” appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research. Participants were given a flyer from a clothes shop that told them they had been selected based on their chic style. The study found that even though participants consciously knew the flattery was insincere, they still felt compelled to buy from the compliment giver, rather than their opponent.

Another study from Stanford University reinforced the premise that insincere flattery works when it found compliments served out by a computer were able to manipulate people.

This insight could have implications in many aspects of your life, both personal and professional, but let’s continue to the Flattery Project.

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev on Unsplash

The Flattery Project

In 2016 Jim Wang from started the Flattery Project. He sent out an email to 42 companies praising their product in an experiment to see if flattery worked as well as complaints to get freebies.

He used a similar template for each email. The companies contacted were: Barilla pasta, Burts Bees, Celestial Seasonings, Chapstick, Cheerios, Chicken of the Sea, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Chobani, Clorax, Coca-Cola, Dunkin’Donuts, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Energizer, Famous Dave’s, Folgers, Frito-Lay, General Mills, Gillette, Hormel, Jamba Juice, Jimmy John’s, Kimberly Clark, Kraft, Nespresso, Nestle, Noodles and Company, Papa John’s Pizza, Pepsi, Pfizer, Powerbar, Proctor and Gamble, Red Robin, Republic of Tea, Sanford Uniball Pens, SC Johnston, Smuckers, Stacy’s Pita Chips, Stash, Tom’s of Maine, Wendy’s and Wrigleys.

Eight companies sent no reply at all, 19 sent a reply of thanks and 17 sent vouchers and samples.

But Jim Wang was not the only one praising products. In England another bright spark was on a similar campaign. Abby Mihell from Hampshire was featured in The Sun newspaper in 2018. The young mother spends 400 hours over a 3-month period writing to companies, complimenting the brands she loves. She treats it like a job, keeping records and files of her correspondences.

With the savings she made she was able to take her family on a holiday.

My Flattery Experiment

These stories inspired me to dip my toe into the Flattery Project pool to see what would happen.

I did a quick sweep of the house, listing products that I love and am loyal to, then drafted the email. I used Jim Wang’s template as the basis. Here’s the gist:


I wanted to say that I’m a huge fan of your company.

I’ve been a long- time buyer of your [product] and can’t imagine buying anything else. I found it especially good [relate how beneficial product has been].

I know a lot of folks probably email to complain and it can be tough responding to those, so I thought I’d add a little sunshine. 🙂

You’re doing great work, it’s appreciated in our house, and I wanted to say thanks.

I don’t know if you have any samples or coupons you could send my way, but I’d be most appreciative to try more of your products.

Thank you and have a great day!

I chose four companies to start with and sent pretty much the same email. The companies I chose were:

· Pilot Pens, because I love their erasable pens;

· Double D Confectionary, because their sugar-free candy is my go-to

· Weleda, because their almond moisturizer is fabulous and

· Saputo Dairy Australia, because they make my favourite cheese.

I also settled on these companies because I wanted to have a range of products and company size as Jim Wang did.

Within a week all had replied and were thrilled to have positive feedback. Rosie from Weleda said, “It is always wonderful to hear positive feedback and hear how people enjoy our product.”

The folk at Pilot Pens weren’t quite as warm in their reply, “Thank you for your feedback. Unfortunately, we no longer provide samples due to a high volume of sample requests.” Which made me think the Flattery Project had got there before me.

Overall my results were pretty scant. I received no vouchers and only one sent through samples. Double D Confectionery sent through five bags of products.

Is it worth it?

The answer to this question ultimately depends what you’re after, free stuff or karma. If you are after karma, then you won’t be disappointed.

But the free stuff pickings were a bit disappointing. Perhaps if I’d been as prolific as Abby Mihell, I would have reaped greater rewards. But what I discovered is worth more than a few freebies.

What stands out most is the feeling of doing something positive. We all like to be complimented for a job well done, it’s a basic need for acceptance. Being able to give that positive vibe to someone, even it is a company, is rewarding. If you end up with a bunch of coupons or samples, so much the better.

Strategies to get maximum returns

If you do want to improve your chances of getting goodies, both Jim Wang and Abby Mihell have some top tips.

  • When emailing a business are: honesty, politeness and organisation.
  • Don’t bother with restaurants — Jim Wang says they never cough up.
  • Have a specific ask in your email. The people reading your email are busy, so get to your ask without too much fluff, but with dignity.
  • Those companies most likely to send samples are smaller or personality driven.
  • Check websites for free coupons before sending the email.

Can We Change the World with Flattery?

The Flattery Project has personal gain at its core, but what could happen if we used flattery more altruistically?

Martin Seligman from University of Pennsylvania explains that psychology has been focused on negativity of pain and suffering, and that pioneers of psychology, like Freud and Schopenhauer thought getting people to zero was the best they could hope for.

However, there’s an argument that flattery, if wielded correctly, could make the world a better place. The theory is that flattery helps us develop to our full potential. After receiving compliments, we are more likely to endure difficulties and challenge ourselves because people believe in us.

So, for example the scientist will persevere to find the cure for cancer, the politician will be more honest, and the inventor will create a teleporter machine and all because they feel they could.

While these examples are extreme, I challenge you to consider what you would or could achieve if you removed self-doubt, or at least diluted it.

In fact, I challenge myself, and perhaps you could join me, to embark on a journey of flattery to see if we can compliment people to their potential. Everyday I will flatter at least three people, with sincerity and see if they flourish like a dessert flower after rain.

If we all did this, maybe the world would indeed be a better place.

If you enjoyed my article please let me know with lots of clapping. I live for applause. For more nomadic tales and experiments come see me at Coolfooting where life is a journey not a race.

A teacher, writer and traveller, but not necessarily in that order. Writing on life, both real and imagined.

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