Surprises Help Ads Get Noticed

Surprises Help Ads Get Noticed

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

As marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about how people direct their attention as they go about their day. This is an important question because the majority of information that reaches the senses gets ignored. 

The brain is bombarded with information each moment, so it has developed a key collection of biases and heuristics to help pick out information that is relevant and ignore information that is not relevant. These biases and heuristics are critical for our ability to make rapid decisions throughout the day, and they’re important for marketers to consider when trying to understand how people pay attention and what they pay attention to. 

A recent article in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience sheds some light on how we direct attention to information in the environment by looking at how we get engaged by music. Their research shows that music with an element of “surprise” was more enjoyable than music that lacked this element of surprise. 

They looked at “harmonic surprise,” specifically, which reflects how predictable the timing of the music is. Basically, the brain constantly attempts to build a model for what it expects to hear as the song goes on and violations of our expectations make the song more interesting. Harmonic surprise helps songs stand out. 

One of the most important implications of their study is the role of context in the way we process information. First, it’s important to recognize that the brain is heavily sensitive to context even if we aren’t aware of it. When it comes to advertising, there are many subtle cues about how advertisements work that the brain begins to pick up on. Once the brain understands what to expect from advertising, it learns to quickly tune out that information until something unexpected happens. The things that we expect to see basically become “cliches,” and that’s why marketers should do a careful audit of all the cliches within their category and strategically break them. Breaking cliches helps you stand out. 

A great way to break cliches is to create a parody surrounding cliches within your product category. Monsters Inc. did a great job of doing this by drawing from cliches surrounding University advertisements. We all expect University ads to show an overview of the campus followed by images of students happily studying and getting along with each other. The commercial might even end with a shot of them all throwing their graduation caps in the air. 

Monsters Inc. created a commercial for their movie using all of these cliches, but since it was a commercial for a movie and not a University, it got people’s attention. Tourism Australia did something similar by creating a fake movie advertisement for Crocodile Dundee, which actually turned out to be an advertisement promoting tourism for Australia. 

At Intermark Group, we’re always on the lookout for ways to break cliches in advertising. We can work with you at all levels of the campaign, from strategy, creative, production to media and more. Feel free to give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help with your marketing challenges. In addition, sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the latest insights in marketing psychology.