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What is Cunningham’s Law? (Wrong Answers Only)
The blue whale is the largest fish in the ocean.
Catch what’s wrong with that statement? Many of you may even be tempted to actively correct us on it.
(Whales are mammals, not fish, and the largest fish in the ocean is actually a whale shark.)
We all share the urge to correct information we know is wrong. If you’ve ever made a mistake online, you know all too well how quick people are to jump in and make sure you know you’re wrong. In fact, we’d often rather correct someone’s inaccurate fact online than answer a prompt requesting that same information.
This phenomenon is known as “Cunningham’s Law.”
Cunningham’s Law states that “the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.”
It makes sense when you think about it. We all love feeling like we have the right answer. We even enjoy correcting others – especially strangers on the internet.
Action on Their Terms
Cunningham’s Law may be a bit tongue in cheek, but the general principle has marketing merit. There’s even a French phrase that translates to “preach the falsehood to know the truth.”
Marketing is all about compelling someone to take action. From a social engagement to a word-of-mouth referral to a conversion, it’s very much marketing’s job to understand what actually makes someone act.
Cunningham’s Law suggests that asking people to do something might not deliver the best results.
So, is the answer to post a bunch of incorrect information online and wait for audiences to correct you? Maybe not.
Cunningham’s Law is also about agency. People want ownership over their actions. When you ask a question, the interaction is on your terms. When someone corrects you, it’s on their terms.
Rather than asking someone to like a tweet, comment on a post, forward an email, or refer a friend, digital marketing efforts should focus more on making it as engaging and easy as possible for people to take those actions – on their terms.
The good news: In the digital space, it’s even easier to test and tinker with prompts to take action.