In AIDC – getting attention isn’t enough

Ad agencies have always focused on interesting and attention-getting ads with the product/brand buried somewhere in the advert, usually divorced from the attention-getting element. So what happens? Buyers remember this greatly entertaining ad, but have no idea what it was for or who it was by. This is a huge waste of resources. It doesn’t do the job it was meant to do

What attracts and sustains attention?

Psychologists have learned important lessons about what attracts and sustains attention.

On a very broad level, things attract attention if they are personally relevance, message impact (contrast, pleasantness, surprise), or ease of processing (it is quick to assimilate/understand). There are a lot of ways we can achieve these things.

Is it personally relevant?

We notice and  pay attention to things that that have implications or consequences for our lives, especially if they appeal to their needs, values, or goals.

We also notice and pay attention to people who look, act, or seem like ourselves, perhaps because we think they have similar needs, values and goals; similar problems—and to situations similar to those we have or experience.

Is it pleasant?

We attend to things that are inherently pleasant. They make us feel good.  The old saw – “Sex sells” is correct because it is one of the things (one of many in fact) that we associate with feeling good.  We are conditioned to have a preference for things that make us feel good – masochists included.  The quotation would be better as “People buy things that make them feel good (or at least feel better than they expect to feel)” We want to approach things that make us feel good and avoid those that don’t.

How to harness feeling good in messages

Use attractive visuals. Advertisements containing models the receiver finds attractive in either a straight forward (personal or fashionable) visual sense (pretty, handsome, sexy) or in a personal preference/recognition way (they look like our sort of person – perhaps like our aspirational self) have a higher probability of being noticed. We pay attention to ads with film stars or sports personalities.  We also pay attention to beautiful sunsets, cute babies, enticing food, and beautifully decorated rooms. They are all pleasant to look at.

Music is another way of making something pleasant. Familiar songs have considerable attention-getting power, which is why some firms have used popular and familiar music and famous artists in commercials. Optimally, the chosen music fits with the message being sent.

As part of the feeling good preference, humour can often be an effective attention-getting device.

The problem with humour is that not everyone agrees on what is funny. Humour can lose its punch after it’s repeated a few too many times. And remember the whole point of this article and stay focused on the main objectives. People may remember the humour, but not the brand name or the message.


All animals survive because they are programmed to notice changed conditions – things that are different from what we normally expect.  Thus we can detect danger and possible opportunities.  This is where contrast comes into the picture (metaphorically speaking).   Things will be notices because of their contrast with their background or current situation.  An upside own picture.  Few words on a page we would expect to be very visually busy.  Words that are the opposite to those normally expected (eg “We Don’t Give Service Here” – Which may not in itself be unusual, but saying it is)

Impact – Surprise!!

People attend to things that are surprising. We are conditioned to things that are surprising because we have to quickly judge how to respond to them (should we fight, run away, or approach this surprising thing?).

Two things make a stimulus surprising: novelty and unexpectedness.

We attend to novel things—those that are new and unique—because they are different and require analysis. Of course, being new, unique, and different is hard work and requires creativity.

One  important to consider about novelty is that the new and novel are not always preferred. We often dislike food, for instance, that tastes different from what we usually eat. The same goes for new clothing styles and new and unusual music.


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