Grab Attention with Your Message
Updated: May 6
The old advertising acronym AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. To influence or persuade anyone of anything, we must first get their attention. Only then we can turn our energy toward arousing interest, piquing desire and prompting action.
It’s been reported that every year 65% more information is strewn out into the world.(1) The business world, like the academic world, has adopted a publish or perish mindset, posting massive amounts of content online everyday. (And yes, I've joined the fray). With more information than ever competing for attention, why should anyone care about our content?
To break through the clutter and noise, we can bump up the PUVV factor…making our message Personal, Unexpected, Visual, and Visceral.(2) Otherwise we might as well
be designing like nobody’s watching and writing like nobody’s reading. Because they
So how do you do that? Here are a few strategies drawn from the schools of design and copywriting, with a splash of brain science thrown in.
Personal. Create a personal hook. Call your reader out with relevant headlines, images, and concepts. How are you one of them? Invite them to spend time with you. Share a meaningful experience. Offer inside information. Write from your heart. Address shared needs and desires. Tell a story. Build comfort and trust.
Unexpected. Humor often springs from the unexpected. A surprising twist helps make a punchline (or anything else) memorable. Stay playful. Pique curiosity. Create gaps that the mind wants to close. Lead with an intriguing question, a surprising statistic, a shocking confession, a provocative quote, an unusual solution. Consider what might be ironic or counter-intuitive about your message.
Visual. Show, don’t tell. Paint a picture…one that’s worth a thousand words. Humans remember 85-90% of what they see, but less than 15% of what they hear.(3) Some visuals are especially effective in attracting the eye and engaging the viewer, including big, bold and/or brightly colored elements, faces, motion (real and simulated), contrast in all of its forms, a clear focal point, especially when surrounded by negative space, a path that leads the eye along it, an incomplete image that the imagination can fill in, repetition of elements…
Visceral. Engage the senses, especially sight, sound, and scent. Arouse emotion. Speak to the primitive brain by tapping into gut feelings, instincts, primal memories, dreams, the wisdom of the body. Music is especially good for evoking visceral emotional responses. Certain scents can take us back in time, and are closely associated with memory in the brain. Buzzwords specific to your audience can kindle meaningful associations and feelings.
With that said, if all this feels contrived to you, or as if you’re running a foot race against all the competing messages out there, temper it with this viewpoint expressed by my esteemed mentor, John Wade, of Before & After magazine:
“As designers, I believe that ‘standing out’ is not our guiding light. Most companies don’t need to stand out. They simply need to stand. Stand strong, stand true, be real. Design, correctly applied, is not something we dream up; it is the look of the world we live in. So much poor design has been made in the pursuit of ‘originality,’ ‘creativity,’ and ‘grabbing the viewer.’
When we designers put the visual face on a business, we are not inventing the face but expressing what already exists. Get to the heart and soul of the thing, and put that on the page. Capture it, and you’ve captured the company. Express it, and you’ve expressed the company. Find the heart and soul of a company, and you’ll never again worry about being derivative, because every company is naturally unique. Fail that, and your work, no matter whether derivative or ‘original,’ is basically a song and dance.”
(1) Gantz, J., Boyd, A. and Dowling, S. “Cutting the Clutter: Tackling Information Overload at the Source.” IDC white paper, Mar, 2009. (2) Aaker, J. and Smith, A. The Dragonfly Effect, Jossey-Bass, 2010. (3) Hamlin, S. How to Talk So People Listen. New York; HarperCollins, 2006.