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You’re asleep. As asleep as a sleeping person can be in a dark, quiet room. Inexplicably, the power goes out…and you wake up?
Well, that’s odd. The dark room didn’t get darker…or the quiet get quieter. But you woke up as if somebody popped a paper bag next to your head.
What just happened?
A funny little brain phenomenon that filters your senses from the same same sameity same. City dwellers stop hearing the traffic and sirens out their windows. You stop seeing the rip in the wallpaper that’s been there for years. Hog farmers stop smelling the “crappier” part of their business. You no longer feel the shirt you are wearing.
Psychologists call this “habituation.”
Marketers call this the enemy.
I spend a disproportionate amount of my brain-energy looking for repeating patterns in advertising:
- Car dealers can’t get enough of big starbursts with prices in them.
- Financial planners assume we will all walk on a beach wearing linen pants.
- Selling coffee? Better have a woman holding a mug with both hands inhaling the billowing steam.
- Restaurants love showing their food tumbling and spinning in slow motion.
- If you take once-a-day Zalflanaflir®, you will soon be twirl-dancing under string lights at an outdoor restaurant and laughing with friends.
- And if you’re a radio station you need to do that groovy thing where the announcer is talking regular…then the next sentence is the same voice but it sounds like it’s coming out of a tin can…then back to regular (would someone explain that one to me, please?).
You’ve likely sensed the steady pelting of ads promising a business is “with you during these troubling times” and “here to help keep you safe” and “please buy our mufflers.”
It’s a textbook study in habituation. When things look, sound, and feel the same (over and over and over and over), they become invisible. Words like “our knowledgeable staff,” “conveniently located,” or “best service,” are no more compelling than the low rumble of a train passing by that you’ve ignored for years.
In Secret Formulas of The Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams details Wernicke and Broca (pp. 50-53). Two grape-sized parts of your brain that are scanning the environment for something…ANYTHING that’s new, different, or surprising. If it’s none of those, habituation sends it into the background of oblivion.
If you’re picking up on the same same sameness of ads right now (because, how can you miss it?), take a serious look at your advertising. Look at it compared to all the other ads that are around it. Anything that has been done before…get it OUT of your ad. If nobody in your marketplace has a kazoo as background music…USE A FREAKING KAZOO. If all the other ads are filled with graphics and designs…yours should be choked with white-space. If the other financial firms use a green logo… yours better be orange.
Send me your ad: email@example.com. I’ll be happy to let you know if any part of it looks, sounds, or feels the same as 597 other ads.
Have you figured out why you woke up when the power went off?
Because things weren’t really dark or quiet at all. Refrigerators hum. Fans quietly whir. Your neighbor’s porch light illuminates your curtains. The little dot of a light at the bottom of your TV is always there. Until they’re not.
You didn’t notice them until they were all gone. And nothing is quite as loud as complete silence.